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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:53 pm on 9th July 2015.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench 3:53 pm, 9th July 2015

My Lords, I join in the thanks expressed by your Lordships to my noble friend Lord Alton of Liverpool for securing this extremely important debate. In his opening comments he referred to Eleanor Rathbone, and I hope that he will forgive me a moment of family pride. My father was vice-chair, with Eleanor Rathbone MP, of the National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief. He is always a hard act to follow, I am afraid.

Some of your Lordships will have seen the obituary on 1 July of Sir Nicholas Winton—he may have been mentioned earlier in the debate. This good man saved the lives of 669 children from Prague. Shortly before the Second World War, he had been due to go on a skiing holiday but he decided that he needed to go to Prague. He arranged eight trains to take these children to safety and he arranged for families in this country to take them in. He always deeply regretted that the last train did not leave and that 250 children were left behind. His family did not learn of this until he was in his 80s, and he died at the age of 106.

I thank the previous Government for their wisdom and humanity in having chosen to enshrine in law a 0.7% commitment to international development aid. Clearly, many of those involved in the migration that we are talking about are economic migrants but, equally, many of them are in flight from the developing world. It is obviously right to seek to support fragile nations so that they do not fall into conflict and so that we avoid the sorts of troubles that we face today, so I salute the Government for making that commitment. I hope that if any young people read this speech, they will also feel pride in their nation for taking a world leadership role by supporting mothers with midwives, by supporting the education of girls and by protecting children from malaria in the developing world. I hope they will feel proud that this nation is leading the world in this area.

I should like to make one request to the Minister following what many of your Lordships have said. Will he think very seriously about committing to provide space for 1,500 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in this country? I shall come back to that towards the end of my remarks.

I should like to make one other observation. My father lived through two world wars. In the Second World War, my mother—whom I was speaking to at the weekend—returned to Croydon at the age of four or five. She had been evacuated but returned during the main part of the Blitz. A factory near the bottom of her garden was bombed and of course that was quite a horrific experience for her. It is quite remarkable that we have had peace in Europe since that time. My understanding is that to a large degree that is due to the solidarity of the European Union. Members of the EU are committed to each other and have built strong trade partnerships, and that has helped to give us this long period of peace. Therefore, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Luce, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, that it is in our strong self-interest as a nation to be an active and committed member of the European Union and to show solidarity with our allies in Europe: we are stronger together than we are disunited. One might say that Adolf Hitler did not die. There is always a new Hitler, and we are always stronger when we stand together against such people.

I want to speak a little about my experience. I visited Angola with UNICEF during the civil war and saw the terrible suffering of the people there. I visited a feeding station and saw the undernourished children being fed. I visited an internally displaced people’s camp, which had been terribly neglected by the Government, and saw a young child with an open wound, which was a distressing situation to observe. Young people were being forced to act as child soldiers. We need to avoid civil conflict, which leads to these migration flows.

I was a mature student and attended a further education college. One of my fellow students was a young man from Eritrea called Izak. He arrived here at a young age with his sister. He went on from the FE college to University College, London, and qualified as a civil engineer. It was difficult for him to live without his parents but he loved to play football, to dance and to work hard, and he was extremely successful. I valued my friendship with him. When I heard from my noble friend about the experience of many Eritreans and that some were being executed, I felt deeply saddened. These are not just statistics; they are real people.

I see that my time is up, so I shall simply repeat my request that we show solidarity with Italy and Greece, and seek to take at least 1,500 children and give them succour in this nation.