My Lords, the House owes a debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his continual fight on behalf of refugees. It is a particular privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. I believe that there is no more courageous Member of your Lordships’ House.
Migration is a global challenge rather than an EU problem; that must mean that it is dealt with on a global basis. The forces for migration can never be removed until we live in a very different world. Conflict, chaos and persecution are the prime causes of the present migration crisis. We must continue to work on these causes, but underlying them all is the natural desire to migrate for economic benefits. That will not change. Most of the migration from sub-Saharan Africa is economic—especially, of course, from Nigeria, the largest of those countries.
The present crisis of the Mediterranean boat people is largely reinforced by economic migrants. It is simply impossible to process people once they have arrived in Europe in a disorganised way, having either travelled illegally or been rescued because they were at peril on the sea. Once they are in Europe it is hard to sort them out, and still more difficult—and in practice often impossible—to remove them because there is nowhere that they can be sent. There are also serious security implications. With the chaos of the present system, it is hard to believe that Islamist jihadists in dangerous numbers have not been entering Europe through the Med route. Still less will the EU Commission proposals for allocating quotas, totalling 20,000, to each EU country deal with the scale of the challenge facing Italy, Greece and Malta. In the case of the UK, we have, of course, an opt-out from such a quota system.
The criticism that we in the UK have taken only a few hundred refugees from Syria misses the point. We have provided £900 million to help more than 4 million Syrian refugees in third countries. If the whole of that sum were diverted to taking refugees into Britain, it would cover perhaps only 90,000 refugees—on the basis that the cost to the public purse for the care of each refugee in the first year is a minimum of £10,000.
The only solution to the immediate crisis is urgently to set up holding areas outside Europe to which people can be returned for safety, sustenance, care and assessment. However, the last thing we want to do is create more overcrowded refugee camps. That is why I suggest that, through the UN, we seek to create holding areas which could in due course become new countries where there might be hope and, eventually, prosperity and even some form of democracy. I have proposed an initial holding area, probably in north Africa and perhaps somewhere on the coast of Libya. The fact that Libya is in chaos may be a reason for selecting it. The holding area would be established under a UN mandate legitimised by the Security Council. It would have to be negotiated with the Government of Libya, who would need economic and financial inducements to agree it. I envisage it becoming eventually a new world state, which I have suggested could be named Refugia. It would require a military presence to establish, protect and guard it. This, I hope, could be provided by NATO, the only world force of sufficient capability and moral integrity. Again, that would be under the authority of a Security Council resolution.
One great natural resource that such an area would have is sunshine. I have in mind the use of solar power not just for the energy that the community would need but for desalination, so as to make the desert bloom and produce food—as Libya did a couple of thousand years ago when it was a granary for the ancient world. Indeed, it included the most important of all the Greek colonies in Cyrene and Apollonia. The Israelis and the Australians are among those who have the technological expertise and experience to make this happen.
It is axiomatic that the necessary human resources in the form of health and education would be provided from the start. World experience as to how best to do this would be mustered by the UN agencies. In April 2013, I visited a UN school for young Arab boys aged eight to 12 in Bethlehem in the West Bank. It was one of the most moving experiences of my life to see their bright eyes sparkling with hope.
An example on a smaller scale, which I have also visited, were the comprehensive facilities provided in Hong Kong for the Vietnamese boat people. More than 200,000 refugees from Vietnam came to Hong Kong in the 25 years from 1975. Two-thirds were resettled round the world and a third were eventually repatriated to Vietnam. Let us remember that Hong Kong was itself established in 1841 under the auspices of the British Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston, in an area which he described as,
“a barren island with hardly a house upon it”.
In authority and power, in some ways Lord Palmerston represented the United Nations of his time.
The cost of Refugia would be a world responsibility and a prime task of the UN mandate. The EU, including the UK, should be expected to make a substantial financial contribution, not least because Refugia would be a location to which illegal immigrants arriving in Europe could be taken. What I have suggested would not be easy. It is an aspiration, but from aspirations can come hope, and from hope happiness.