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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:15 pm on 9th July 2015.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Desai Lord Desai Labour 3:15 pm, 9th July 2015

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who not only has given us an opportunity to debate the issue but has done excellent work over many years on this problem. My comments follow from what the noble Lords, Lord Marlesford and Lord Luce, said. I believe that this is not just an African problem but, as the subject of the debate suggests, a problem in Asia as well. It is a global problem and it is not going to go away. It is a global problem because of climate change, state collapse, dictatorships, resource scarcity—whatever. There are a lot of these people, and I do not think it makes any difference whether we call them refugees, asylum seekers or migrants. We should not engage in cheese-paring about what they are and who we will accept. This problem not only is not going to go away but will be with us over the next decade or so. It is a consequence of globalisation. We all accept that capital can move anywhere it likes—why do we not want labour to move anywhere it likes? What is this?

One or two things need to be said. Europe as a whole has gone anti-immigration—it is regrettable, but it has. When new Labour was in power, it had a most generous open-door policy of accepting migrants from the newer members of the European Union. In the last election, not a single party could be found which would actually say something positive about immigration. That is the situation, and we have to have a global solution. That means that the European Union, especially the members who are also permanent members of the Security Council—the UK and France—ought to move the United Nations and everybody else to seek a global solution to the refugee problem.

I will use a 19th century example. In the last 30 years of the 19th century, one-third of the population of Europe moved to America—mainly to North America but also to South America. Some of them were facing persecution, especially those from the Polish borders and so on. There is the very famous episode of Tom Mann, the trade union leader, going to the dockside in London and saying to the incoming people on the ships, “Brothers, you are welcome here, but I wish you had not come”. That is our attitude to migrants.

I believe that the global solution could be as follows, although it is rather Utopian. There are a number of countries in the world that are empty, for example a lot of those in central Asia such as Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan et cetera. The density of population in those places is sometimes fewer than 10 people per square kilometre, whereas ours in Europe is somewhere between 200 and 300 people. It seems to me to be a very good global solution to take people who want to leave their country for whatever reasons to countries that have room for them.

Why should they take them? This is where we must use our resources to give incentives to the recipient countries to accept these people, train them and make them settle there. I know that it is wildly Utopian, but it is a very difficult problem to solve. However, if we could engineer over the next 10 years a transition of people from Africa, Asia or wherever they are to the relatively empty countries of Asia—I do not think that there are many other empty countries left—that could be a solution to this problem.

The people will go on coming; they will not go away. It is quite legitimate that they should have the ambition to leave their poverty-stricken country and go somewhere better. It is not true that a Libyan or a Nigerian wants to stay in Libya or Nigeria for ever. North America would not have been settled if that were the case. So let us admit that people want and are willing to go to where they can get a better life. Our response should be that if we are not going to have them, for whatever reasons, we should find them a home where we can settle them and give resources both to them and the recipient country to make life better for everyone. That is the best I can do in my six minutes.