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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:08 pm on 9th July 2015.

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Photo of Lord Luce Lord Luce Crossbench 3:08 pm, 9th July 2015

My Lords, in his excellent speech the noble Lord, Lord Alton, drew attention to the fact that we face the biggest migration crisis in the world since World War II. He gave us the UNHCR figures about the 60 million people who have been forcibly removed from their homes, which is almost the same as the population of this country. Another figure that brings it home even more is that over 40,000 people a day in this world are being removed forcibly from their homes.

However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, that this country’s record in receiving and welcoming refugees has been a good one. Since 2008, I think that we have received more refugees in this country than every other European country except for Sweden. That is good and I welcome the fact that, if we look back to the time when we welcomed the east African Asians here, they have made an immense contribution to this nation.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, I want to look a little more at longer-term issues, although I do not quite go along with some of the views that he expressed about creating a new nation. But unless we look at and tackle the roots of the problem, we cannot really deal with the question of migration in a proper way. If ever anything brings home to us the fact that this country cannot be an island unto itself, it is this kind of issue. We are wholly interdependent and this very much demonstrates the British interest in being active in the world in dealing with and helping with conflict resolution.

The immediate challenge, for us and Europe of course, brings home the fact that if there was not a European Union, there would have to be a collaboration of European states to devise a policy for approaching this problem. To my mind, the heart of the problem is that 1.5 billion people live in fragile and conflict-affected countries, where dictatorships have created failed states, fragmentation of states, vacuums which are filled by warlords and extremists, sectarian divisions of one kind or another, poverty and despair. It is no wonder that this creates conditions for terrorism, extremism and, of course, migration, which is what we are considering today. We only have to look, as we have seen in the debate so far, to Syria and Iraq, the Horn of Africa, Sudan and South Sudan, Afghanistan, Burma and, as has been mentioned by so many, Libya. I remember, as a former governor of Gibraltar, witnessing the number of Africans who swam across the Straits of Gibraltar from north Africa to Spain and, when some of them drowned, imagining whether I myself would have taken that kind of risk had I lived in the conditions that they lived in.

To my mind, it is the overall strategy that matters in the long term when it comes to tackling this problem. We have to work in a multipolar world and hence internationally and through multilateral bodies such as the European Union and NATO. We have to engage with China, which has 3,200 peacekeepers operating now. We have to engage with Russia. We have to engage much more strongly with the Commonwealth, whose heads of government will be meeting in Malta in November. I hope that they will put migration and conflict resolution at a very high level on their list of priorities.

At the same time, this has to be buttressed by a regional approach to these problems. We cannot find solutions unless there is a regional approach. We have that in Syria and in South Sudan, and we have to build on it. We did it with Indian Ocean piracy, to considerable success. We dealt with Sierra Leone in the early part of the century on that basis, with considerable success.

We also have to remember that most of the refugees remain in their own region. Those from Syria live in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan; 95% of Afghan refugees live in Iran and Pakistan. It is the help that we give there that matters more than anything else. I praise the efforts of DfID in giving the support it does and the new focus its aid has on job and growth creation.

I end with two main points for the Minister to comment on. First, it seems to me that we have to have a strategy for stabilising the situation in north Africa in co-operation with north African leaders, especially in Libya. Secondly, we have to pursue very vigorously the idea of establishing multipurpose centres for migrants in transit, as near to the source of the problem as we can conceivably get it. In north Africa, we hear that there are somewhere between 500,000 and 1 million migrants living in Libya, which has not been stabilised since Gaddafi was overthrown. We all know there is rivalry between the internationally recognised Government in Tobruk and the rival Government in Tripoli and that there are rival militias in the northern part of Libya which are destabilising the situation with the help of Daesh. Obviously, it is absolutely essential that we give strong backing to the UN negotiating efforts to get a Government of national unity. It is a British and a European interest to see that and to do our utmost to prevent the situation spilling over from Libya into Tunisia, where we saw the absolute tragedy of the death of 30 British people. Do we and the

European Union have a strategy to work with north African leaders for stability, particularly in Libya and in north Africa as a whole?

Lastly, I come to the point about multipurpose centres for migrants. I noticed that A European Agenda on Migration, produced in May, included a proposal for working in partnership with third countries to tackle migration upstream. There were two specific proposals: first, to support countries bearing the brunt of displaced refugees through regional development and protection programmes, starting in north Africa and in the Horn of Africa and building on what we have done in the Middle East; and, secondly, to introduce a pilot multipurpose centre, to be set up in Niger—not Libya—which will provide information, local protection, resettlement opportunities and advice to migrants. I understand there will be a summit conference between the EU and the African Union in Malta to discuss all this. I would be very grateful if the Minister could say what the Government’s policy is on each of these points.