Refugees and Migrants from Asia and Africa — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:47 pm on 9th July 2015.

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Photo of Lord Maclennan of Rogart Lord Maclennan of Rogart Liberal Democrat 2:47 pm, 9th July 2015

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on initiating this debate and allowing the House to confront the deep tragedy facing the world. We cannot in this country deal with the 54 million migrants whom the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has spoken about. But we should be coming to terms with the European Union in dealing with those migrants from north Africa who are flooding into Europe. We ought to recognise that other countries in Europe are doing far more than we are to face this tragedy. Since the resolution of the European Union in April, following the death of 800 people, we have given some support to the saving of lives. We have initiated the work of the Navy—HMS “Bulwark” and, later, HMS “Enterprise”. It seems that we need to maintain this at the level which we started at, as the risks are very serious. A UN study indicates that this year 137,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean and that migrant deaths amount to almost 2,000. That is a human tragedy of gigantic proportions for which we must take responsibility.

In particular, we must recognise that we need to help the Italians and the Greeks, who are making considerable financial and social efforts to deal with the problem. The Italians have indicated that the majority of the people arriving in Italy by sea are from Syria—42,323 out of 170,000. The second-largest group comes from Eritrea, at 34,329. The UN inquiry into Eritrea demonstrates that, contrary to the view of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the country’s citizens are suffering greatly from crimes against humanity. There are extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, indefinite national service and forced labour. Recently the UK Government have indicated that the Eritreans are reducing national service to 18 months but, according to the UN inquiry, there is no evidence of that at all. Forced labour is not something that we should reconcile ourselves to.

We must also recognise that the neighbouring countries of Syria have been burdened almost beyond belief by the high numbers of refugees. One in four people now in Lebanon is a refugee from Syria—25% of the population. Some 2 million people in Turkey are refugees. We have offered 187 places to the Syrians. That is ludicrous and we really must do something about it. On 13 May, the EU Commission issued an interesting and constructive report which advocates an emergency relocation and resettlement system. Unfortunately, we have not responded positively to the decision reached by the EU Council on my birthday, 26 June, that EU leaders should agree to the relocation from Italy and Greece of 40,000 people in need of international protection. We have opted out of this. If we want to take a leadership role in global society, we should work with our partners in Europe to tackle these problems.