My Lords, as chairman of the EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee, I thank the members of the committee, as well as the clerk, Theo Pembroke, and policy analyst, Lena Donner, for their assistance with the inquiry and preparation of this report.
The current refugee crisis is the greatest humanitarian problem to have faced the European Union since its foundation. Last year, more than a million people entered the EU irregularly. In the process, thousands died en route to or through Europe, and more continue to do so. According to the International Organization for Migration, at least 2,500 migrants died in the Mediterranean in the first five months of this year. Migrant smugglers are very often the cause of these deaths. According to Europol, more than 90% of irregular migrants arriving in Europe used facilitation services at some point in their journey and, in most cases, these services were provided by migrant smuggling networks. We have witnessed how migrant smugglers force desperate people on to unseaworthy vessels and refrigerated lorries. Accounts of fatalities among those embarking on these perilous journeys have sadly become a regular feature of daily news, while testimonies of inhuman and degrading treatment have multiplied.
Migrant smuggling is a crime against the state. Dealing with migrant smuggling, managing refugee crises and migration and protecting the fundamental rights of those in need of international protection have become pressing priorities. But there are no quick fixes. Preventing and fighting against migrant smuggling is very complex and affected by long-lasting political crises, endemic civil wars, economic and social disparities, difficult co-operation with source and transit countries, and limited legal and safe migration channels to the EU. The weaknesses of the Libyan state is a case in point. A comprehensive approach is required, which addresses the root causes and brings together policies on migration, security and external affairs, and greater co-operation with third countries.
The EU and its member states initially vacillated in taking responsibility for dealing with the crisis. The response has been inadequate and, in some cases, regressive. In May 2015, the Commission adopted a wide-ranging agenda on migration, with a view in part to address this crisis. Shortly afterwards, the Commission presented the EU Action Plan against Migrant Smuggling, one of the agenda’s many immediate measures. In July last year, the EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee decided to investigate that action plan and to examine its four priorities: to reinforce investigation and prosecution of smugglers; improve information gathering, sharing and analysis; better prevent smuggling and improve assistance to vulnerable migrants; and improve co-operation with third countries. The purpose of our inquiry was to investigate the efficacy of the action plan with a view in part to feed into the Commission’s proposed review of the legislation in this area, which will be published later this year. Since the report was published in November 2015, the situation has continued to change. We have had responses from the Government and the Commission. The Commission launched a consultation on EU legislation against migrant smuggling in January 2016 and the EU Council published its conclusions in March, encouraging further interagency and intra-member state co-operation, in line with our recommendations. It also includes references to the protection of humanitarian groups. There have been other developments—for example, the EU-Turkey agreement—but there are of course concerns about conditions in Turkey.
Let me turn to the main conclusions and recommendations of our report. We concluded that the Commission has rightly sought to place an action plan within the context of a broader approach to migration and welcomed its attempt to bring together policies on migration, security and external affairs, and its emphasis on co-operation with third countries—as long as this can be achieved by respecting the human rights of vulnerable migrants. The action plan includes several measures intended to enhance co-operation with third countries. Because the inquiry was conducted by the EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee, we focused on migration, law enforcement, policing and the internal security aspects of the action plan rather than on the broader questions of EU external relations, which I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, will touch upon in speaking to his Motion.
The evidence available to us about where the migrants are coming from suggested that a majority of those entering the EU as irregular migrants are “prima facie refugees”, as defined by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The most recent figures available from FRONTEX show that from January to April this year, more than 100,000 of those detected making irregular border crossings were from Syria and Iraq —two countries ravaged by war. Based on that evidence we concluded that this is essentially a refugee crisis and that, in response, equal emphasis should be placed on its humanitarian aspects and on law enforcement.
Protecting the fundamental rights of irregular migrants requires differentiating between smugglers and those providing humanitarian assistance to those who are smuggled. Migrant smuggling is a complex phenomenon, which can involve organised criminal gangs at one end of the spectrum, and local groups, including groups of migrants who may have humanitarian motives, at the other. This complexity needs to be recognised in any effort to tackle migrant smuggling and any policy responses.
Rightly, the director of Europol was concerned by the possible connection with terrorism. Although Europol had not actually witnessed this, he felt that smuggling networks might be exploited by extremists and that Europol was very sensitive to this. We support and welcome the priority which Europol is giving to this issue. Our report was, however, published before the Paris attacks on
We also support the objective of tackling migrant smuggling through enhanced law enforcement, which is a necessary and fundamental objective, but given the scale and nature of the problem this alone is not sufficient. A multipronged approach is needed. To make a meaningful impact, greater priority should be given to the creation of safe and legal routes for refugees to enter the EU. The Commission recognises this in the action plan but does not set out any details. While we recognise that initiatives such as the Khartoum process, regional development programmes and aid will have impacts, law enforcement and the creation of safe and legal routes should be seen as part of this multipronged approach.
We welcome the interdisciplinary approach taken by the action plan but emphasised that this comprehensive set of actions should be conducted in a balanced way and with due regard to the safety and rights of the individual concerned. In this context, the EU protocol is relevant. The action plan refers to the UN protocol, but there is no explicit connection between EU and UN action and no common definition of migrant smuggling. We recommended that there should be greater synergy between the EU and other international organisations and that as a first step towards this, the inclusion of internationally accepted definitions of key terms in EU policy documentation and legislation.
In the action plan, the Commission raised the prospect of further legislative action. We looked at the facilitators’ package and recommended that the Commission should propose an EU framework that builds on the humanitarian aspects of the UN protocol by criminalising only those acts committed for financial gain and adding clauses to avoid the criminalisation of individuals or organisations for their action for humanitarian purposes. We also said that we would welcome the addition of inhuman and grading treatment as an aggravating factor in the sentencing of convicted smugglers. I am pleased that in response to our report the Commission said that it is taking into account the need fully to reflect the spirit of the UN protocol on migrant smuggling.
The responsibility for much of the implementation of the action plan has been given to EU agencies such as Europol, Eurojust, the EU’s judicial co-operation unit and FRONTEX, the EU’s external borders agency. In some cases, extension of the mandates of the agencies is proposed. Enhanced responsibilities of these agencies will test their mandates, resources, modes of communication, intelligence gathering and operational co-operation.
Our concern is that such enhanced responsibilities may encourage member states, which under international law are required to protect refugees and asylum seekers, to distance themselves from those obligations. We therefore argue for greater accountability and transparency in the way these agencies operate. We drew particular attention to the extension of FRONTEX’s mandate, and recommended that the suggested changes should be monitored by the Fundamental Rights Agency.
Since our report was published, the Commission has proposed legislation to transform FRONTEX into a European border and coastguard. This reformed body will have greater powers to conduct return operations and to operate outside the EU. We remain concerned that insufficient consideration has been given to how law enforcement and protection of fundamental rights will be balanced. I therefore repeat our recommendation that the Commission should undertake its planned evaluation of the returns directive within at least six months of the reform of FRONTEX becoming operational, rather than in 2017.
The Commission must ensure that the agencies are adequately resourced to perform their tasks, and that the funds are allocated transparently and based on clear criteria. The action plan’s call for greater co-operation, co-ordination and information sharing between agencies and member states is essential, as is the concept of hotspots, and progress on these fronts should be monitored and evaluated.
The networks, practices and routes used by migrant smugglers are constantly changing. The fluidity of the situation presents significant challenge to law enforcement. Urgent work therefore needs to be undertaken at EU level to ensure that information collected and shared is of high quality, and that gaps are identified and remedied. The necessary focus on gathering information on migrant smuggling in the Mediterranean must not result in the neglect of migrant smuggling operations elsewhere, including within the EU borders.
We recommended that a single agency, ideally Europol, should be responsible for collating and sharing information and intelligence. I am therefore pleased that, since our report, Europol has established a European Migrant Smuggling Centre to help member states and agencies to share information and act as an intelligence hub. We also recommended that funding should be made available for academic and field research to address the lack of comprehensive understanding of migrant smuggling. There is a critical need to collect and share information on the modus operandi, routes and economic models of smuggling networks to understand the business models and design adequate responses.
Whatever the outcome next Thursday, the migrant crisis is not going to disappear, so it is important that urgent action is taken at EU level and by member states. This is a wake-up call. I beg to move.
My Lords, this is the second time in two weeks that I have the pleasure of introducing our report by the EU External Affairs Sub-Committee of the European Select Committee. As on the last occasion, I begin by thanking our staff for the outstanding service that they have provided to us, and also my colleagues for their constructiveness and hard work during the course of the preparation of this short report. It is appropriate that the report should be taken in conjunction with the one that has just been spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, because we are dealing with two sides of the same problem.
Our report about Operation Sophia had three basic findings. The first was on the impossibility of the challenge facing it. The second was that, despite that, the mandate of the operation should be renewed in the hope of, and to be ready for, more propitious circumstances, which would enable the operation to work more effectively. The third was because of the very important work that the operation has conducted in saving lives. It was not what it was set up to do; it was set up to disrupt and deter the smuggling networks. But saving lives is very important, and I commend the men and women serving on the naval vessels for the work they have done in that respect.
In the light of our recommendations, I am pleased that, since we reported, the European Union’s Political and Security Committee has agreed to extend the mandate. I am pleased, too, that the high representative, Federica Mogherini, has called for a UN Security Council resolution to authorise Operation Sophia to expand by enforcing the UN arms embargo on the high seas off the coast of Libya. I am glad that the EU wants to help to train and share information with the Libyan coastguard and navy. These are all positive steps—and they come since we concluded the report. I am delighted to welcome them, and they make the challenge facing Operation Sophia somewhat less impossible. However, it will still be beyond its power to disrupt and deter people-smuggling until a great many more changes occur.
In the long run, the operation can succeed in its primary task only if there is a much greater degree of co-operation with a viable and stable Government in Libya. Of course, we are some distance from seeing such a Government established. Therefore, the European Union must do whatever it can, however limited, to help bring about that desirable eventuality. In that connection, I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s recent visit to Libya and wish the British Government, along with their partners in the EU, well in their efforts to bring about change in Libya, while not expecting any immediate results.
The other leg of a long-term policy, as we point out in the report, must be to address the root causes of mass migration of mainly young men from African countries to Europe. This phenomenon has to be seen in the context of similar moves from south to north America, from central Africa to South Africa and within the Asia Pacific area. It is a simple matter of people living in poor countries with limited opportunities wanting to seek better lives and more opportunities in richer countries, but if the problem is simple to define it is extremely difficult to do anything about. We must help the countries from which the migrants come to establish more effective governance, combat corruption and improve their economic performance and opportunities, but this is a very difficult task. When one considers that one of the countries from which migrants come in very large numbers is Nigeria, which is one of the two largest economies in Africa, an oil-producing country and a country with many very rich people and many successful businesses, one can see that the issue is not simply a question of money, but of good government and a willingness of civil society to take up its responsibilities. None the less, we must do whatever we can to help and we must not be deterred by the scale of the challenge, nor expect speedy results, nor be deterred by their failure to materialise as quickly as we would wish.
We must also work out with these Governments a workable system of repatriation, building on the precedent of the EU-Turkey agreement. Of course, where people are refugees from war and persecution, the European Union has obligations that it must observe, but many of the people we are talking about are not refugees in such a situation, and we must consider the repatriation aspect of the problem as well as other aspects.
The drivers behind the mass movement of people come from the countries from which they originate, but another aspect of the solution is to seek the support of the countries through which the migrants are passing. The more the borders of these countries can be strengthened and the more the flow of migrants can be tackled before they reach the Mediterranean, the better it would be. Once they have got to the Mediterranean, there is not only the difficulty of handling the very large numbers but the fact that many of those people face the prospect of a watery death. It is important to prevent that at the outset.
I have one final point. While the Governments of the European Union must fulfil their obligations to refugees and victims of persecution, it must be clear beyond doubt that the European Union cannot and will not accept all who wish to come here. The citizens of receiving countries have rights that must be respected, just as refugees and migrants have rights that must be respected. Immigration is a highly sensitive issue in all our countries, as all of us in this country have particular reason to understand at present. It brings benefits as well as problems, and it is a great pity that Governments in this country and elsewhere have not done more to bring home to public opinion the benefits that immigration has brought and continues to bring and why we will continue to need immigrants in this country. While more needs to be done to draw attention to the benefits, Governments must also take full account of the public’s legitimate concerns, as I think the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury pointed out some time ago. If public opinion is given good grounds for believing that Governments are not looking after their best interests, there will, I am afraid, be hell to pay. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow two such distinguished speakers. This debate also provides me with a second opportunity to say what an excellent chair of our committee the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, has been. Today really is his final debate in his role as chairman, and I think all noble Lords would agree that his speech today was a thought-provoking and powerful way to finish in that role.
We are facing the movement of people on an unprecedented scale. The reasons are multiple and complex, including civil war, population growth and economic and environmental pressures. We have also witnessed the emergence of a new kind of ruthless people smuggler. These people smugglers now use smart technology to relay information through social media on the best routes into Europe and the current price lists for the various routes available. There are people so desperate to come to Europe that they are willing to pay several thousand dollars to risk their lives and those of their families, travelling in rubber dinghies across the Mediterranean or in containers that are unfit for human transportation.
The report on Operation Sophia concentrates on the central Mediterranean route from Libya to Italy. At the time of drafting the report, the Turkish deal was in the process of being agreed. We asked several witnesses whether they thought there would be a resulting shift from the eastern Turkish route to the central Mediterranean one if the Turkish deal was successfully concluded. The predictions that this would happen have proved tragically accurate. As the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, said earlier, over 2,500 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean this year already. The middle route is the longest and most dangerous, particularly if carried out in a rubber dinghy.
As the report states, we believe that Operation Sophia is carrying out a successful role in providing a search and rescue function, but is doing little to destroy the people-smugglers’ business model—at times, indeed, quite the reverse. The lack of a stable regime in Libya is further hampering the situation and makes it exceptionally difficult for international organisations to control and monitor the situation on the ground.
We need to be able to differentiate more clearly between refugees and economic migrants, as the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, has said, although I accept that there is a lot of grey space between the two: abuse by people smugglers of young and vulnerable migrants, particularly women and children, often leads one to become the other. According to the United Nations, over 15 million people could move from the desertified areas of sub-Saharan Africa towards north Africa and Europe by 2020. Missions such as Operation Sophia are just too small to be genuinely effective in dealing with the scale of people movement we are facing. We need to have a comprehensive and overarching strategy that tackles issues such as legally recognised official routes, provides even greater support for reception centres and delivers an ambitious economic and investment plan to provide support for the countries in the MENA region. We need to find new and effective ways to penalise the people smugglers, perhaps even by using the mechanisms of the International Criminal Court. We also need to be creative and ambitious in coming up with long-term solutions to the economic and environmental problems that are forcing so many people to travel northwards from sub-Saharan Africa.
In the last year I have been working once a month on a project in Jordan, assisting with the political reform programme there. I refer noble Lords to the register of members’ interests. Last month I spent a day with UNHCR visiting refugees in Amman. Jordan currently has over 600,000 Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR, and is having to cope with over 1.5 million Syrian refugees in total. Although the media have, understandably, mainly concentrated on the camps, over 80% of the refugees in Jordan are living in towns and cities in rented accommodation, attics and basements and wherever basic accommodation can be found. The stories of two families I met on that day stick in my mind.
The first was a Syrian family living in a small flat in Ashrafiya in central Amman. Before the conflict, Raslan, a father of five, had been working as an engineer for a Canadian oil company in Syria. He had previously been earning $2,000 dollars a month. Their home town had been blown to pieces and is now controlled half by ISIL and half by the Syrian Government. He managed to flee legally to Jordan with his passport, and the majority of his family then followed. Their accommodation was basic but damp, and the whole family were sleeping in one room. They had a living room with a simple kitchen and bathroom. The UNHCR field officer who was with me that day said it was one of the better examples of refugee accommodation that she had seen. During the interview, Raslan emotionally showed us a school photograph of a young boy. He was their eldest son, whom they had not seen for four years as he was currently fighting with the Syrian Government army and had been forced to stay on at the end of his conscription. Their middle son had not received any education whatever since arriving from Syria two years earlier because all the local schools were full. It was clear that his family wanted to return to Syria as soon as it was safe to do so.
The second refugee family we met was a Sudanese family living in very primitive accommodation. Their kitchen was a gas camping stove on two breeze blocks and the toilet was a hole in the ground. The husband had fled by plane to Jordan on a medical visa after two of his brothers had been murdered in Darfur. He was suffering from migraines and blackouts and, being unable to work, had accumulated considerable debts, mostly in rent arrears. His wife was due to give birth to their second child that day. Their first child was quite badly malnourished, as they were trying to survive on one meal a day of bread, water and occasional vegetables. I am pleased to say that I have since been told by UNHCR that this family will be resettled in the United States.
I share those two stories with your Lordships because, in this fevered atmosphere of headlines in the media saying that hundreds of thousands of migrants are going to flood our shores, I believe it is our human duty to remember that behind each of these statistics lies a personal and often tragic story.
On the other side of
My Lords, I think that all of us in the Chamber agree that international migration, wherever in the world it is, on the present scale is a huge problem. It is bad for the countries that originate it. For example, I learned recently that Jamaica loses over 80% of its graduates every year. Imagine trying to substantiate sensible systems of government if you are losing four-fifths of your graduates every year. How can you possibly do that? No wonder Jamaica has huge drug and crime problems.
A few years ago I was in Botswana, which has a severe AIDS problem. It has a drug programme to try to control it, but I found that the problem was getting worse because the drugs were not available. That was because they were not being administered as there were not enough nurses. I asked why there were not enough nurses and the answer was that they were all in Britain helping the NHS. I was made to feel very guilty, understandably. That is the sort of detailed problem that we somehow forget when we talk about international migration. En passant, that makes me suspicious of the rather glib solution of the Australian points system that the Brexit people have come out with recently. How is it right for us to take the people we need and totally ignore the requirements of the originating country? That cannot be morally correct.
Apart from the problems in the originating countries, there are problems in the transit countries. The strain on facilities in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Greece, Libya and so forth at the moment is huge—it is far greater than we are experiencing in this country. There are also problems for the receiving countries, and I very much echo what my noble friend Lord Tugendhat said in his opening remarks: we must consider those extremely carefully. People are understandably alarmed at the thought of more than 300,000 people a year coming to the UK. How will they fit into this small island? They are also concerned that we have no control over the EU portion of immigration. People expect their Governments to have control over these issues—and so they should.
I was delighted to serve on the committee under the chairmanship of my colleague and noble friend Lord Tugendhat. In looking at Operation Sophia, we discovered that this early stab at trying to control immigration through Libya, across the Mediterranean to Sicily and Italy was not working at all well and that a much broader approach was required, as the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, said in her remarks.
We need a two-pronged approach. We need development aid to tackle the originating problems in the countries of north Africa. As the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, said, 50 million people may emigrate from those countries over the next five or six years if we do not tackle these problems. That needs to be coupled with a proper programme of deterrence.
I will deal with the deterrence issue first. As has been said, the problem with Libya is that there is no coherent Government at the moment. However, a unity Government is being established—an embryonic Government. They will need our help, and they are getting our help in some respects. As I understand, we are giving some military, financial and logistical help. I am also delighted that the Foreign Secretary was out there to co-ordinate that and give some diplomatic support. They need, for example, help with their coastguard service. The coastguards are patrolling a huge area of coastline and, inevitably, cannot deal with all the smugglers who are trying to get their poor immigrants across to Italy. We need permission to go inside the territorial waters to help their coastguards be more effective, to give them more resources and to stop it being simply a save and rescue operation, as it is at the moment, and to deal with the problem in a systematic way. The deterrence, as we all agreed, is well short of what is required.
We also need help for the countries of origin. I am delighted, therefore, that on
Again, quite clearly there are huge problems. As my noble friend Lord Tugendhat said, there are problems in Nigeria, where very rich people are making quite a lot of money. There are problems in Niger, where already the politicians have demanded £1 billion, almost in blackmail. There is corruption, there are dictatorships and there are human rights abuses. These are all problems in that part of the world and they mean that we have to conduct our affairs in helping them in a far more businesslike and efficient way than perhaps we have done hitherto.
Development aid and deterrence are required, working together. In that way, we may be able to manage down to a level that people can accept the migrant flows that are appearing. It is a huge challenge for the European Union, but it must be met with competence and realism, as well as humanity.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, on what is yet another final appearance on behalf of his committee. The two reports make sensible recommendations, including the case for co-operation of the EU agencies, the sharing of information and so on.
Migration, as we all well know from the Brexit debate, is what the Americans would call a “neuralgic issue”. For as far ahead as we can see, the affluent, secure, stable Europe will remain a magnet for the huddled masses, the persecuted and the ambitious of the third world. There are heart-rending stories of individuals, some of whom I have met, and which the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, set out so well. We in this House made the right response to the issue of unaccompanied children, which the Government now appear to accept. However, we have to accept that, overall, demand is unlimited. We cannot accept all those migrants who would like to come. However difficult, we must strive for an ordered and managed policy.
The present migration crisis illustrates well that the European Union is not a superstate. The Commission proposes; member states dispose. If walls will not solve the problem, we need, nevertheless, to control our EU borders.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, acknowledged, the reports have already been partially overtaken. There is now, for example, clear evidence, after the revelations of the Paris bombing, that terrorists have used migrant routes to enter Europe. The EU announced a new policy on
There is a curious reluctance on the part of the drafters of the report—and, indeed, so far in this debate—to mention the population boom in Africa. According to the UN World Population Prospects, published last year, there are more than 1 billion people in Africa. The UN projects a figure of almost 2.5 billion by 2050. Since 1975 the population of Egypt has doubled, to more than 80 million. Nigeria has been mentioned. In 1960 Nigeria had 50 million people; now, there are more than 180 million. By 2050, according to the UN prospectus, there will be more than 400 million, surpassing the United States and making Nigeria the third most populous country in the world.
We have to ask ourselves: where are all these young people going? Will they find jobs in their country of Nigeria? Will they find food? Will they find water? The scale of the problem is enormous. The Population Institute report of June 2015 contained case studies of the most demographically vulnerable countries. I mention Niger, as did the June EU report, as it is the worst case. It is the poorest country in the world, with the fastest-growing population. Among the demographic indicators are that women have an average of 7.6 births; that is a projected population growth to 2050 of almost 300%. Only 8% of married women use modern contraceptive methods. Economic drought could add to the chronic food insecurity. Severe poverty and hunger and climate change would make matters worse. It has the second-highest score in the world on the Gender Inequality Index. It is so important that women be educated in family spacing.
A high percentage of young people in these African countries see little prospect of advancing themselves at home. There are demographic pressures, obviously, from conflict, and the danger is not only Libya but Algeria next door, with its high population, environmental degradation, felling of trees, desertification, and increasing conflict for resources, including water. These are further reasons for exodus. All these factors feed on themselves. I ask the Government: are DfID’s responses adequate? Should it invest more in reproductive health and family planning? Or is it too sensitive a subject—or deemed to be, as experts parrot the word “culture” to excuse inaction?
There are no easy solutions. The Sophia report is entitled an impossible challenge, but it is necessary to recognise and meet the problem. Short-term solutions, of course, include a government in Libya who can govern, helping to stabilise Algeria, and open legal channels for migrants, but such numbers are likely to be limited and may deprive Africa of its professional elite. Some say that the 1951 refugee convention should be revisited to provide temporary shelter until conflicts are eased.
As the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, asked, what are the rights of receiving countries faced with these problems of culture? In the longer term, we need to work closely with African countries, as shown by the partnership framework. Last November’s Valletta summit, between EU and African countries, was unproductive. What incentives are there for African countries to co-operate with us? What chance is there of being able to accept returned migrants? We need to lubricate the deal financially, as Spain has done with west Africa, to protect the Canary Islands. Yes, we need carrots and sticks, trade deals, investments and enforcement in Europe of laws dealing with employers and landlords. The message must surely get through that non-convention migrants will be returned, or at least many of them, to their country of origin. Even then, we are likely to fall far short of the demographic challenge I have outlined. It is no wonder that the Sophia report is entitled an impossible challenge—one that we have not yet fully recognised in our policy response.
My Lords, I speak as a member of the Home Affairs Committee and as a former member of the External Affairs Committee. Migration is a huge global problem, but it is particularly acute in Europe, whose stability and economic success act as a magnet for people from poorer and less stable parts of the world. It is particularly acute now, with the crisis in Syria creating the worst humanitarian disaster since the end of World War II, compounded by civil war and strife in Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Sudan and Libya. The EU is right to try to formulate a new, comprehensive and coherent response to this crisis, not least because its existing policies and structures were designed for a different era and are no longer fit for purpose. Hence the descent into national responses that we have seen—noble as far as Angela Merkel’s is concerned and less noble, if understandable, as far as other countries’ were concerned.
The bold and, at least for me, unexpected EU decision to send migrants back from Greece to Turkey in return for settling Syrian refugees in the EU has had a marked effect on the level of migration from Turkey to Greece, but it has not had any effect on migration across the Mediterranean—indeed, there may have been some diversion from the Aegean to the Mediterranean. As the report makes clear, smugglers are ruthless, entrepreneurial and flexible, seeking out the weakest and most profitable routes irrespective of the consequences for the people whom they smuggle.
Against that background, Operation Sophia was never on its own going to deter the smugglers. Indeed, the prospect of rescue may have been an incentive to send people out to sea on fragile boats in the hope that they would be somehow picked up. However, to say that Operation Sophia is only, or even primarily, a humanitarian mission is not in any way to belittle it—that is a crucial task and a task in which the Royal Navy is rightly involved; I speak as the son and grandson of naval officers who used to sing in church every morning “Eternal Father, Strong To Save” with the lines:
“Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!”
It does not matter how people get into peril; what matters is that they are saved.
What for the longer term—for this is a longer-term, perhaps a generational, issue? There are no easy solutions, but it seems to me that the aim should be to work with EU partners and others for stability in the Middle East and north Africa and for economic development in sub-Saharan Africa, difficult though that is, not least for the reasons that have just been explained. A second aim should be to support those countries, notably Lebanon and Jordan, which are bearing the brunt of the refugee crisis, as the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, said. Thirdly, we should try to establish safe havens or camps for refugees in north Africa, too, ideally under UN auspices, whenever political stability makes that possible. Fourthly, we must try to distinguish—because it is extraordinarily difficult—between economic migrants and those fleeing from war or civil strife, and to work to return economic migrants to their home countries and establish legal routes for genuine refugees, thereby reducing demand for smugglers. Finally, we must ensure that genuine refugees are properly settled within the EU, including within the UK. That is a long-term, imperfect and difficult agenda, but I find it hard to see a better way forward.
My Lords, I welcome the two reports before us in all their complexity and I thank the members of the European Union Committee for their expertise, which is already evident in this debate. I particularly welcome the committee’s recommendation in paragraph 8 that the mandate of Operation Sophia is reviewed and renewed, along with the EU’s subsequent decisions. Clearly, this operation alone cannot be the complete answer to the challenges that we face. However, the European Union must not return to the position that it held before the Lampedusa tragedy of apparent indifference to those who seek to cross the Mediterranean in danger of their lives. Nor can we neglect the spread of people-smuggling on and across our borders.
I focus my remarks on two areas. The first is the complex emerging ecology of care for refugees and migrants across Europe, which is a sign of hope. Lines of help and support connect our towns and cities in Britain with the supply and delivery of aid—a counterweight to the emerging networks of people-smugglers. The responses that have emerged over recent years form a complex ecology of care; a partnership between national and local government, aid agencies, faith communities and individual charity.
The Church of England is engaged through its networks right across its Diocese in Europe and the wider Anglican communion in responding to the refugee and migration crisis and is working with the DfID to get the aid committed by the UK Government to those in most need. The Anglican communion is assisting those who remain in the camps with health, hygiene kits, shelter and education. Those who have decided to leave the region and have arrived in Europe are being supported with spiritual, psychological, health and clothing support as they cross Europe by the Anglican Church in Athens and the Anglican churches in southern Italy. These churches are themselves working in partnership with Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian communities.
Throughout Britain, churches and faith communities are working in similar partnerships to build this ecology of care for refugees here and across Europe. Sheffield is the original city of sanctuary and the ideas have spread to many other places. The Sanctuary Movement works with local charities and local authorities to welcome and support those who need a place of safety. The Muslim community in Sheffield, led by the Islamic Society of Britain, has been particularly active in collecting and transporting aid to the camps in Syria and to the refugee centres in Greece. Listening to the stories of Muslim friends who have visited these camps is heartbreaking, as are the stories that we have heard this afternoon. The crisis in its many different forms represents an impossible mission, but one which demands the best from every part of our society.
My second point concerns the scale of the present crisis. There is a sense in the reports that this is acknowledged, but not yet fully comprehended. This is not surprising, as we are clearly dealing with a situation without precedent in modern times. As we have heard, the global migration of peoples is not simply the consequence of terrible conflict in a small number of countries. As the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury said in his recent evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee, there are millions and millions of displaced people across the world. The causes of migration are more extensive than war or persecution. Global warming plays its part as livelihoods disappear. A rising inequality between nations is part of the deeper narrative. Populations are rising. The dominance of a single, western and materialistic culture in the urban centres of the world makes its contribution. Global communications play their part.
The crisis we face in Europe and in the Mediterranean must be understood against this deeper and broader picture. There is a pressing need to keep in focus the United Nations vision for a more just and sustainable world, and to hold in our minds our commitment to the recently agreed sustainable development goals. There is need for more comprehensive study and further debate on the root global causes of migration and what can be done to respond to this great movement of people globally, as well as locally, strategically and tactically.
I warmly welcome these reports and plead for still deeper analysis and an ever richer ecology of care.
My Lords, the first time that I can recall ever hearing the term “economic migrant” was when it was used in the other place by the then Home Secretary Douglas Hurd. His phrase neatly encapsulated a growing issue then for the UK and our European neighbours, but it was rather more of a challenge than a crisis. It was something new and it seemed to be in manageable numbers at the time. Fast-forward from the later 1980s, when I heard my noble friend Lord Hurd of Westwell, as he now is, use that phrase, to 2016, and just as the new economic normal for western Europe has become ever-low everything—low inflation, low interest rates and therefore low economic growth—the migrant issue has mutated from a border issue to a supposed economic and social existential event, in parallel with that low economic growth and therefore relatively low European capacity to deal with some of these issues because the money is not being produced by a growing economy.
The events that are now being played out in the Mediterranean Sea, with its never-ending toll of death and tragedy, appal us all. Operation Sophia, under a mandate now to be renewed, has done its best with some planes, some helicopters and some other military borrowed assets and a few ships to do a lot to save often economic migrants from death in its search and rescue tasks, which my noble friend Lord Horam referred to in his speech, as the pressure grows. I certainly do not decry that search and rescue effort; it is a vital humanitarian issue. But its law and order, border patrol activities have caught few of the organised criminals behind the sickening people-smuggling scams that we see. Why is this? It is because the intelligence needed to manage the task of dealing with them is highly underdeveloped. The European writ large has neither the people on the ground nor the writ to control the supply of this great and growing surge of people from states in economic difficulty down through Africa.
They are coming up through the very often ineffective and imperfect if not sometimes in danger of failing state of Libya—or, to me, what now seems to be the two almost separate blocs that reflect the way Libya is divided today between east and west, as it was back in the time of the Roman Empire with Cyrenaica to the east, centred on what is modern Benghazi, and Tripolitania to the west, centred on Tripoli. I hope I have that right. I am no classical scholar, but I see the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, in his place and he can doubtless correct me if I have my historical geography of the later Roman Empire a bit wrong. But whatever, there are flows from the east and to the west where those Roman provinces once reached deeply down into Africa. Today the flows of migrants from Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea are funnelled up towards Benghazi while those further to the west from Niger, Mali or indeed Nigeria flow towards Tripoli.
The intelligence-gathering efforts that should inform a renewed Operation Sophia mandate are in their infancy, and we must be straightforward about that. There are certainly a lot of action plans along with a blizzard of acronyms and a welter of “contact groups”, “policy cycles”, “hot spot approaches”, “thematic groups” and much more of what to me is the impenetrable language of the action plan, but not enough people there on the ground. With great respect, I sometimes see more acronyms than there are actual feet on the ground. What is needed is a much greater effort to target more aid and to anchor more people with the foundations of hope to stay at home, which most want to do, whether in Ethiopia, Sudan or Chad. I am very proud of what the UK has done in this context and I am a strong supporter of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in the way in which he has increased our overseas aid effort and targeted it better, whether that be in Syria or in some areas down in Africa. I only wish, not to beat about the diplomatic bush too much because that is not my way, that other countries such as Germany and France, which could afford to spend more, would do so. They are not spending anything like as much as the United Kingdom and they should get on with it.
What is also needed—perhaps being even less diplomatic—is to deal with Libya itself. It is a fulcrum of instability as well as a funnel of migration of the most desperate sort, helping to damage global stability. There have been UN-type mandates within Europe in the Balkans in the past few decades and there are others presently in sub-Saharan Africa. There may soon need to be some sort of mandate offered to the Libyan coast in order to create a less penetrable land barrier with the Mediterranean to stem the flow in a way that we have not yet managed to do. There may need to be helpful European shoes in greater numbers on the ground in Libya than there are now helping to stop migrants from reaching the sea and to support the hard-working Italian and British ships in their Operation Sophia tasks, which otherwise will be with us for decades. Let us hope that the good Libyan people will soon ask for that help. My noble friend the Minister will probably not be able to answer me today—why should he when I have not given him any notice?—but have they ever asked for that kind of help? Perhaps he could write to let me know if they have and what our response has been.
As the Sophia or its successor mandate is renewed, and important though ships and other borrowed military assets are, the real challenge is for the countries of Europe, members of the EU or not, to develop not just the projection of soft power into Africa but its actual use quite deep in Africa as well as in the Middle East, to develop and sustain those intelligence-gathering activities on the sources of migration, and to develop the ability to help more people in those countries to stay put for a better life at home rather than ending up on, or more tragically in, the Mediterranean.
My Lords, I shall confine myself to Operation Sophia, but first I should like to offer my own words of tribute to the excellent chairmanship of the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat. Operation Sophia has done some very creditable work in its search and rescue role, but as we have heard and as the report concludes, it is unable to perform its mission of preventing illegal migration, at least not until it is able to operate in Libyan waters much closer to the launch point of the trafficking. Since that is the case, we shall need to reconsider in due course what will be required in practice to stem the flow of migration across the central Mediterranean route, always assuming—it is a very big assumption—that we have the political support of the Libyan Government.
Most member states of the EU have a good understanding of what is involved in migrant trafficking, and for obvious reasons much of that knowledge is related to the operations of traffickers within the destination countries themselves—how they exploit the people under their control. But the problem we are facing in the Mediterranean and the central and western routes is of course a different one. How do we deter the flow of migration coming from the supplying states of north Africa and well beyond: Mali, Nigeria, Guinea, Eritrea, Somalia and so on? It is a long chain, as the noble Lord, Lord Patten, has said, and seems inexhaustible in its volume.
Our experience of trafficking in Europe has led us to understand how the market works, and how these people are exploited in prostitution, the construction industry and debt bondage. As Sophia has shown, those who are conducting the trafficking closest to our borders are seldom the ones who play a determining role. Often the people who steer the boats are migrants themselves. The beneficiaries and organisers of the trade can be stretched across great distances, far removed from the Mediterranean coast, and they perform diverse functions.
The trade is conducted by merciless criminals, to be sure, but their facilitators can take the form of corrupt border guards, police, embassies and politicians. We know that tribal communities and settled municipalities alike conspire to earn money along the line, exploiting in their own economies the trafficked migrants who are effectively temporarily enslaved before they are moved on to another destination in the line. Certainly there will be benefits, most of all in saved human lives, if the EU were able to interdict the traffic off the Libyan coast, but the evidence indicates that this will simply bottle up the problem in Libya and Morocco.
On deterrence, we can see that there is a much more complex process that will have to be addressed within a conceptual framework. Clearly for the success of their business the traffickers have to move their victims into a country. There has to be transport, an entrance point, the providing of identities and false documents, housing, which is often illegal, and work places, and financial mechanisms for foreign accounts, bribes and money-laundering. At every stage in these networks identifiable operational facilities are required by the traffickers, which act like choke points, against which some counteraction can be conducted. Indeed, some countries promote admirable educational programmes in the supply states themselves in an effort to inform potential victims of the dangers they face. In other words, there is an enormous process to be undertaken, a comprehensive migration policy, as the report concludes and as the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, also concluded.
The question in my mind is really this: clearly, phase 2B of Sophia, operating in Libyan waters, requires naval capabilities. There must be some doubt, however, as to whether it is really practicable to designate phase 3, even now, as a security and defence mission, something that will be seen throughout the region as a military mission. Unless it is to be purely ephemeral, going ashore and establishing a presence on Libyan territory in the foreseeable future carries some obvious risks—physical risks, certainly, but several political risks too, not least the one of acceptability.
To achieve any significant success in stemming the trafficking trade there will have to be close co-operation with the Libyan and other neighbouring Governments at all levels, including coverage of the domestic issues embedded deep within the culture and structures of Libyan society. We are not at the moment close to implementing phase 3, but I am not yet convinced that we should continue addressing that possible step in the context of extending Sophia’s remit under a quasi-military endorsement. The objectives, status and planning of onshore preventive activity will prove to be a large departure from what we have been doing so far, and it seems more appropriate to prepare for such a contingency within the framework of a civil programme.
My Lords, I too had the privilege of serving on the EU External Affairs Sub-Committee and would like in this debate to draw attention to the evidence that we heard from the NGOs, Médecins Sans Frontières and Amnesty International, and to pay tribute to the important work that they do in the context of Operation Sophia. Other NGOs, including Save the Children and the Red Cross, are also involved, but Amnesty and MSF were invited to give evidence to our inquiry.
Amnesty’s report of a dramatic increase in deaths as a result of shipwrecks was instrumental in prompting the EU emergency summit that resulted in the reinstatement of a search-and-rescue operation. MSF told us that when 1,305 deaths were recorded in April 2015—a massive increase compared with the same month only a year before—it took the unprecedented step of launching its own rescue boats, and has to date rescued nearly 24,000 people. Both these organisations supported our conclusion that, although search and rescue was essential, the objective of targeting and disrupting the networks of traffickers and smugglers was an impossible challenge. Indeed, Amnesty has received accounts that many of those intercepted and believed to be smugglers were probably just refugees who had been nominated the person in charge of the boat. Amnesty said that those at the top of the smuggling chain are,
“no doubt making huge profits and probably go nowhere near anyone they are smuggling”.
Both Amnesty and MSF confirmed that closing down certain routes was no deterrent to smugglers, who quickly find alternative routes. These were usually even more dangerous and more costly to the refugees than the previous routes.
Amnesty also impressed on us the scale of the migration challenge and put it into perspective with the specific challenge for Europe. The level of migration into what we have called the “magnet” of western Europe is unprecedented, but it is not disproportionate when looked at globally. As we have heard, at the end of 2013 there were 10.5 million refugees globally and by mid-2015—less than two years later—this had gone up to 15 million. We were reminded that these figures leave out the 5 million Palestinian refugees. These numbers are difficult enough to grasp as statistics, never mind as real people trying to stay alive and doing the best for their families. But despite the magnet of Europe, the vast majority of the world’s refugees—86% according to Amnesty—are being hosted not by European countries but in the developing world.
MSF gave evidence about the desperate situation of refugees as they wait in Libya for the chance to board a boat to Europe. Conditions are dehumanising. Refugees may wait for weeks or months, and many are subject to violence and abuse, including forced prostitution. Both MSF and Amnesty viewed with grave concern the suggestion by the Prime Minister in March that Operation Sophia might return boats and refugees back to Libya. The NGOs said that this would merely return severely abused people to the hands of their abusers and would just present the smugglers with a further opportunity to exploit the same people for even more money. Only yesterday, Amnesty published a report with an even graver warning: the EU’s plans to co-operate with Libya’s transitional Government on migration policy is harming refugees and is very likely to result in further shocking human rights violations.
We were also made aware of some degree of tension between NGOs operating in the area covered by Operation Sophia and the military authorities. The director-general of the EU military staff told us that one NGO was advising migrants against giving information to military officials about the smuggling networks. MSF told us that it had never come across this, but our witness from Amnesty said that there had been reports of volunteers and NGOs feeling intimidated in their work by the authorities. This tension is clearly undesirable and ultimately unhelpful for the refugees. In the light of the committee’s conclusions on the importance of intelligence gathering and sharing, I hope that relations between the military authorities and the NGOs can be improved and tensions resolved.
Finally, the NGOs stressed to us the importance of creating safe and legal routes as the only means to prevent the market for smugglers continuing to grow. Amnesty proposed three options: first, a resettlement programme; secondly, an increase in family reunion; and thirdly, a system of humanitarian visas to people to come and claim asylum—a strategy it said had been used so far by only Brazil and France.
We are very grateful to the NGOs which took the time to contribute to our inquiry and, of course, for the committed humanitarian work they undertake every day. Like the committee, they took the view that the challenge of migration and the plight of refugees cannot be resolved until and unless the root causes of the problem are addressed. This is, as others have said, a massive and massively urgent challenge for all EU member states.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, who will be greatly missed on our committee. I know I speak for all members of the committee when I pay tribute to the excellent chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Tugendhat. I thank him for so superbly chairing our proceedings and for so effectively summarising our report on Operation Sophia. I also applaud the work of the committee of the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar.
Every day, tragically, our television screens are filled with dramatic pictures of anxious people arriving in Italy from Libya. There are horrific reports of people drowning, seduced by criminal gangs into travelling in flimsy vessels, often having parted with their life savings. We have heard of the inadequacy of the remit of Operation Sophia and the inadequate resources to deal with the flow of migrants, but at least lives have certainly been saved.
There are 7 billion people living on our planet and there are millions who are on the move, who would like to be on the move or who plan to be on the move, either internally or externally. What is clear is that there is a very limited overall framework to deal with this phenomenon, even regionally in Europe. Public opinion all over the world is divided as to how, in practice, to deal with this, the phenomenon of our age, ranging from the compassionate to the violently antagonistic.
Of course, determining in principle and in practice how to distinguish between genuine refugees from war, violence and persecution and those simply seeking a better life, in order to react appropriately, is hugely difficult. Mercifully, we in this country do not have an extreme right wing but even perfectly legal migration to this country is clearly dramatically affecting public opinion. It is infecting public discourse in the United States and creating fissures in the European Union, and is something democratically elected politicians will not ignore. I mention this because what Operation Sophia has shown and the refugee influx has provoked is a need for a much more broadly based and coherent response from Europe.
In April 2014, working with the African Union, the EU agreed an action plan which focused on trafficking in human beings and all that flows from it. In part, the object of the exercise was to find a balance that would enable defined migrants who make it to Europe to be integrated successfully, and to deal with the issue of remittances, while looking towards the root cause of the migratory flows. This was taken further later that year with the Khartoum process, aimed at enhancing existing co-operation and specifically addressing the issue of people trafficking and smuggling. I therefore welcome the orientation of the EU Regional Development and Protection Programmes towards north Africa, the Horn of Africa and Nigeria, as recently proposed by the European Commission. A pilot project in Niger will encourage local protection and resettlement opportunities and offer assisted voluntary return options. Under the common security and defence policy, a key meeting this autumn with the African Union will try jointly to further address irregular migration, with all its ramifications.
Of course, greater political stability in Libya is the key to the more immediate resolution of the cross-Mediterranean flows. Sadly, there are very limited grounds for optimism at this time. However, I note that yesterday the United Nations Security Council unanimously authorised a crackdown on arms smuggling on the high seas of Libya, allowing the inspection of vessels to seize and dispose of illicit weapons, which are undoubtedly the source of terrorist activity in Libya by extreme radical groups. All this is important in both reassuring European public opinion and trying to bring about some acceptable governance to the chaotic situation in Libya.
What I have described are simply parts of what our report made clear: that the EU must with urgency develop a strategy that tries to tackle mass, irregular migration at source. Last week the European Commission proposed a new partnership framework with third countries, based upon the European agenda on migration. The aim is a good one: to deliver coherent EU engagement to encourage member states to combine their respective instruments and tools, and to agree to a collective compact with third countries in order better to manage migration, giving direct encouragement to those third countries to co-operate in migration management. A substantial sum of money has been envisaged for this purpose.
Clearly, and ultimately, this phenomenon of our time, mass migration, will require something even more comprehensive and a fresh architecture. In 1990, the UN agreed the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. Of course, many countries today are extremely sensitive to what they perceive as unwarranted interference by regional or international organisations. However, building on what is now emerging in Europe, it would be useful and important for a more international process to be considered, by trying to bring together existing protocols and by examining the responses and practices of different countries.
If this is seen as something far into the realms of impossibility and impracticality, it is worth noting that in the last few years we have acted internationally in considering the consequences of the environmental degradation of our planet and the destruction of forests and wildlife. But the human, worldwide migratory challenge is now centre stage, and we ignore it at our peril. Operation Sophia has simply highlighted one facet of the enormous difficulties surrounding international migratory flows, but I hope that, through this report, it has added something to the necessary and inevitable debate about how to deal with the greatest human and social challenge of our age.
My Lords, the scope of these two reports extends almost beyond our imagination, over new horizons. As we approach the referendum, despairing Eurosceptics are playing on the Napoleonic fears of some of our citizens that we are going to be overrun by migrants and refugees and that, after Brexit, they must presumably rebuild pillboxes and checkpoints along our sea frontier. These absurd fears have not exactly surfaced in this debate, but they are present and are nevertheless real ones that we must address.
I can say from limited experience what while we may as world citizens be facing mass migration, this is not occurring or likely to occur in the United Kingdom, where we receive relatively small numbers, most of whom—as we have heard—are essential to our economy and our welfare. In my lifetime we have dealt with large-scale migration before, starting with the effects of the aftermath of war in Europe, then the migration from Communism, the Vietnamese boat people and, more recently, the vast numbers of migrants, refugees and those displaced in Africa. Let us not forget those who cannot cross frontiers: internally displaced people. There are 40.8 million displaced by conflict worldwide and, on top of that, 19.2 million were displaced by disasters last year alone. These figures come from the May issue of the excellent Forced Migration Review from Oxford.
It is often said in the media that the relief agencies cannot cope; the most recent example is the chaos along the Macedonian border. Of course, to begin with, nobody can cope, because of the unexpectedly large numbers. But host countries have to cope, and the United Nations agencies have been dealing with these emergencies for years. The scene will be messy and inadequate, especially in terms of sanitation but, in the end, the situation will stabilise and people will just about survive, although there are always serious deprivations, inequalities and grave breaches of human rights. A Greek farmer has apparently even fired on the Bangladeshi strawberry pickers whom he had himself recruited. Resettlement is desirable but an option only for the very few.
What is new to us is the surge of numbers across the Aegean and the Mediterranean. The refugees from Syria, we can expect, will be largely cared for in time. Refugees from north Africa have not had such a warm reception, and we are going to see more of them, but economic migrants from Africa pose a different problem. We in Europe will have to expect that, so long as our economies improve or remain stable and while their own countries are in turmoil, people will continue to come in search of freedom and prosperity; it is only natural.
Most of this pressure is hitting the UN agencies head on, especially the UNHCR and WFP. I have had a huge respect for the work of UNHCR ever since I visited refugee camps in various countries in the 1980s on behalf of Christian Aid. The staff are always highly committed, often performing remarkable tasks of improvisation to meet humanitarian need, yet they are always short of funds and never given the necessary resources by UN member Governments.
Appendix 6 of the report on the action plan is a letter from UNHCR to my noble friend Lady Prashar, saying that we need to,
“expand legal avenues for seeking protection”,
“enhanced resettlement, family reunification … and ‘refugee-friendly’ student and labour migration”,
visa schemes. Safe and legal routes for refugees are fully dealt with on pages 18 to 20 of the report, which, as my noble friend Lady Coussins mentioned, comes out with recommendations on the use of humanitarian visas and on resettlement and relocation schemes for migrants. However, it concludes that the EU is not doing nearly enough.
A lot has of course happened since the report was published in November, notably the Government’s own gateway resettlement scheme, which I am sure the Minister will mention, and the temporary fix of the EU’s exchange deal with Turkey, which I hope he will comment on. Both reports confirm the accepted view that the EU, while it has useful instruments such as Europol and FRONTEX, is not very good at resisting migration or even refugee movements. The muddles at Calais and in the Balkans seem to provide evidence of this. I think that it is because Schengen is failing the European Union and the nation states are, not surprisingly, reasserting themselves. My humble advice to the EU Commission would be to stick close to the United Nations and not create too many new initiatives. The EU also needs to proceed cautiously when it comes to stemming migration in Africa and the Middle East. As a Union, it has no particular mandate except in humanitarian situations, where its excellent agency, ECHO, has been active in many parts of the world.
Last week, we debated similar issues and I mentioned the relatively new Khartoum process by which the EU co-operates with north African countries. Under the Khartoum process, as I am sure the Minister knows, we have decided to get closer to authoritarian regimes such as the ones in Sudan and Egypt, as well as the more unstable ones such as in Libya. The idea is that we will help them to tackle smuggling and improve their policing methods at checkpoints and frontiers. That sounds good on a fine day but, remembering Somalia in particular, one wonders what will actually happen to the money invested and whether the EU can possibly exercise any control in such remote, divided and corrupt parts of the world. The noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, mentioned that, too.
The report on Operation Sophia provides a sober assessment: as long as there is need for asylum and demand from migrants, smuggling will continue to exist. It says in paragraph 136:
“'The EU needs governments … that it can work with. Therefore, building the resilience of these countries is critical”.
As the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, said, that is a very tall order, although an admirable aim. Most of us hold the view that international development has to be the ultimate insurance against conflict and emergency, but we are also aware that the conditions have to be right. For me, that implies good governance and the involvement of civil society throughout any project. We have many examples of eventual success through the EU, even in countries such as Somalia, but root causes are tackled not just by development aid and investment but by a range of policies, including diplomacy, foreign affairs, international trade and security.
Education is one fairly reliable route to good development. To conclude briefly on student visas in relation to migration—it is an old chestnut, I fear—the Minister will know that many of us cannot accept that students should be treated as immigrants. Three years ago, the PM made a reassuring statement to Indian students in Bombay, which was widely reported, yet the successful clampdown on bogus students also hit genuine colleges that had taken on some of those students and should not have been abruptly closed. The number of Asian students here has fallen drastically. Our universities have suffered because parents can no longer afford the high fees, even if they acquire temporary visas. Many students who would and should have come here have gone to alternative universities abroad. I expect and hope that this policy will be debated again and again in this House.
My Lords, I have no locus standi in this at all and therefore may be an ungifted amateur intervening on other people’s activities, but at the time of national service, I wanted to go into the Navy, which was quite a difficult thing to do. Somehow, I managed to get down to Portsmouth and asked if they would take me, and they said I had to go through the normal procedures but there was a little bit of a crisis coming up. Before I knew it, I was taken on and told that if I wanted to get ahead, I had better take a few exams and they were looking for new officers, but I was totally unqualified.
They put me on a crash course and somehow I managed to pass. Before I knew it, I was going out effectually to the Mediterranean, to Cyprus and Suez, to find myself as a junior officer on board a coastal minesweeper called HMS “Floriston”, which was to be a patrol vessel for illegal activities in the whole of the Mediterranean.
It was a great experience for me, because the whole Suez situation was just coming on and there were a lot of illegal activities of smuggling and aggression. We would do night patrols, which meant that I as the most junior officer was the one who was up all night and then had to get up early in the morning. We used to board vessels with an outboard and a rubber dinghy, because the main barge did not work. We found that a surprising amount of illegal trade was going on—but it was not illegal in any way other than people trying to avoid taxation. In our stop and search for things, we found an amazing pattern of movement of people and of smuggling of people, even in those days, which it is hard to understand now.
Later, I found myself involved in the banking world. I was dealing with trade and became chairman of the Committee for Middle East Trade, which had responsibility for trade development for the whole of north Africa and anywhere to do with the Middle East. I learned a lot from our Arab friends, all of whom are traders by nature and many of whom were great seamen, but it was the business of stop and search for illegal activities in the Navy that taught me. We have found that there is an awful lot of this going on right across the Mediterranean today.
I found that I had got hooked, and something I had longed to do was the travels of St Paul. So I went out and bought myself a sailing boat—not a particularly great one—and spoke to a bishop or two, got the route and sailed around the Mediterranean following St Paul. I then found to my surprise that the boat was quite acceptable for other people to charter, so I did that activity for 10 years. But in the back of my mind was the movement—the migration—of people. I used to study the maps and look at where they were and where they came from.
Even today, I find it a difficult world to work and live in. I am not sure what we can do about it, but I believe that greater co-operation with the Middle East might be helpful, because it is difficult to stop and search in many places. I would be quite like to be back in the Navy—but anything that I can do to help the committee I would willingly do.
My Lords, I start by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, on the way in which she chaired our committee—not only her efficiency but the obvious compassion that she felt on the subject that we were dealing with. It is very important in debates such as this to remember the very real people who have been referred to in this debate, whom we have seen on our television sets and in newspapers.
I will also mention in passing that the reports that we are debating today are a good example of how much impact we can have on the European Union. In fact, it has already picked up on some of the suggestions that we have made. One thing that I heard from evidence given at the time was that our reports are well received in the European Union. It is a simple message: if we are in the European Union, we can, if we want, lead. If we just sit on the fence, we cannot lead. That is perhaps the most important message underlying the political discussions on the European Union at the moment.
On the issue of migrant smuggling, it is a very depressing picture. One recommendation that we made, recommendation 79, is about trying to get the language right and co-ordinating this with other international bodies and organisations. Migrant smuggling is a title that is not strictly accurate. This is also a refugee crisis, and it is very important to say that. Obviously, a lot of the people are migrants for economic reasons, given some of the countries that they are coming from. But it is equally obvious that a vast number, particularly in relation to Syria, are refugees. Within that, you other groups that are very difficult to recognise as having separate needs, most obviously the trafficked people, particularly women, trafficked for sexual purposes, or children, for both sexual purposes and others. Trafficked migrants or refugees—whatever label you wish to put on them—require another way of dealing with people. That is why we rely so much on the various agencies, both public and private, which are trying to help people in these conditions.
There is a much wider debate here, which people have been touching on, about how we deal with the crisis around the world in migration and refugees. A country such as Jordan is dealing with it incredibly well, but one reason why it can deal with the problem better than others can, and with much larger numbers than we have dreamed of—in the millions, or certainly much more than a million—is that the country has a good, stable Government with the rule of law. It is not as perfect as one would like—it never will be—but it is a lot better than others. If we are going to talk about aid in this respect, one thing that I was told many years ago is that, frankly, any help that we can give to achieve the rule of law and stable government is more important than almost anything else. If we can get that, a lot of these troubles will go away.
Underneath that issue, there is the problem of the United Nations Security Council. If it was operating as it should have done, and was not so divided, frankly, we would have put up holding centres in Libya. There is no reason why you could not cater for very large numbers of refugees in that area, preventing the abuses that are already happening to refugees. But you have to have boots on the ground. Ideally, they would be United Nations ones with a camp—but we are nowhere near that at the moment, so we have to pick up the pieces by having Royal Navy, Italian navy and French navy ships in the Mediterranean, trying to stop people crossing.
The other problem, which the report addresses, is with the criminal activity of smuggling. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that a large number of gangs and individuals go in for criminal smuggling to make large amounts of money out of it, but I am also aware that a lot of the smuggling is done by small people with boats who are making them available for a sum of money. I often wonder what would happen in a court case if you tried to charge one of them with smuggling and they said, “Yes, I felt sorry for them—I took them across but I charged them some money”. I am not sure whether that would count as smuggling or as assistance. None of that solves the problem. We have to have some sort of external force on the European borders; we have to face up to that.
One of the most impressive bits of evidence given, written and verbal, was by Rob Wainwright, the director of Europol. Again, Europol, and his particular role in it, is highly regarded among the other EU states. He was saying that unless we get better co-operation between the various forces there, we cannot have a common approach to what are in effect the borders of Europe. I think that such an approach is emerging—and the sooner it does, frankly, the better.
The other thing that comes out as very important in what Rob Wainwright is doing is intelligence gathering. It is no good just trying to stop ships in the water; you also need intelligence about what is happening on the ground in areas such as Libya and who is organising this—when we are dealing with criminal charges—so we can try to stop them. I noticed that a man was arrested a few days ago in Italy, with co-operation between the British and Italian police. Whether that will lead to a conviction I know not, but it is an indication that that sort of work is going ahead.
My final point is that if we are to have at least a temporary solution on this, we also have to be clear about our returns policy. I think it is pretty clear to most people that we cannot return someone to Syria, but it is different when it comes to Nigeria, which is a very large country. There is one problem area in it where, if you were returned to it, your life expectancy would be short or grim, but large parts of Nigeria are stable. We need the co-operation of the Nigerian Government to ensure that if we return a person there, we do not return them to an area controlled by Boko Haram. There are similar examples that I would give but time is against me. I will say simply that there is a whole package of measures here.
When historians look back on this, I do not think that the European Union, our Government or the rest of the world will come out of it very well. But I acknowledge, as I think we all must, that it is an incredibly difficult problem for which there are no quick fixes. We have to start building up these procedures and improving them, and I hope that our report, along with those that we have heard about today and the others that I know are in the making, will have some impact on that—but it is a slow and painful process.
My Lords, as a relatively new member of the Home Affairs Sub-Committee, I too pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, for her chairing of the committee and for the succinct and wise nature of the recommendations in the report. I welcome also the fact that the report on the EU’s action plan on migrant smuggling is being considered by your Lordships’ House.
I know we have all been deeply moved by the terrible sights we have seen of desperate migrants clinging to woefully inadequate crafts in the Mediterranean, of destitute and forlorn groups of survivors, and of the deeply shocking scenes of those who have drowned, some of them tiny children. The illegal practice of people smuggling is one that preoccupies us all when we see the abject misery of those who have been exploited and exposed to mortal danger. In highlighting some of the issues that are not always considered by the media, the report makes clear in its evaluation of the EU action plan that the issue is a complex one with, as many people have said, no easy answers.
We heard evidence that large and powerful criminal networks are involved as well as smaller, more opportunistic operators. The committee supports the high levels of collaboration and information sharing that currently exist, and urges the commission to continue to co-ordinate the collection of intelligence by member state authorities. We also urge that proper resources must continue to be made available to ensure that levels of policing are maintained.
One of the key issues raised by witnesses to the sub-committee was the fact that these migrants, as others have said, are refugees fleeing from war and violence, not, as has been suggested, economic migrants seeking a better life. The report provides evidence from a variety of sources that this is the case. It is therefore appropriate to refer to a refugee crisis, and we would support the EU action plan being amended to reflect the fact that victims of smuggling may be refugees—vulnerable people with complex needs. It is also crucial that the humanitarian needs of refugees are provided for and that proper services are provided for the many who have suffered intense trauma and violence, in addition to the needs for basic food and shelter, as was so well described by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Sheffield.
Paragraph 56 of the report urges the Government to participate fully in the Commission’s discussions regarding possible measures for dealing with the root causes of migrant smuggling. The UNHCR and others who gave evidence highlighted the importance of safe and legal routes. Currently those fleeing from war and violence have very few means of entering the EU legally. The UNHCR suggests a number of admission programmes, including the admission of relatives, humanitarian visas, community-based private sponsorship, medical evacuation, academic scholarships and resettlement schemes. Our report makes the point that these too need to be considered.
Many of our witnesses, including the Refugee Council and Amnesty International, urged the Government to participate in the EU measures for the relocation of migrants and criticised the action plan for not giving this objective sufficient priority. The action plan, rightly, distinguishes between human trafficking and people smuggling. I very much support the recommendation that the 2004 directive, requiring member states to provide residence permits to victims of human trafficking, should be extended to smuggled migrants who have assisted in criminal proceedings against people smugglers.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, said, we are confronting the greatest humanitarian crisis to have faced the European Union since its foundation. It is clear that the enormous number of refugees seeking to come to Europe is unlikely to reduce in the near future. For many of these people, the prospect of being killed on the high seas is not a deterrent. Fleeing from desperate circumstances, likely death or torture, most will feel that they have little choice.
It is only through collaboration and shared responsibility that the means of answering the needs of so many can be found. The recommendations in the committee’s report welcome the action plan and make some key additional proposals. However, it will be vital that member states, including the UK, collaborate and show responsibility and leadership if there is to be any progress in addressing this crisis and providing basic safety for so many people in need.
The prospect of generations of children being abandoned in barely adequate refugee camps or being left to the mercies of human traffickers and organised crime is chilling, and it is fertile territory for those who practise terrorism. I very much support the recommendations in the report and hope that the UK Government will play their part in working with other member states to address the current crisis and seek long-term solutions, as many noble Lords have suggested today, to the immense challenges of global migration.
My Lords, we read every day that immigration has become the central issue in the referendum, and perhaps it will determine the outcome of the vote. This is hardly surprising because it is probably the biggest and most urgent challenge to the West. I think that the British people have little confidence that anybody has a grip on it, and the two reports that we are debating indicate that they are right to feel that way.
Of course, the problem is huge. Conflict has displaced 12.5 million people in Syria alone. The present situation in Greece, Italy, France and probably Germany, which now has a backlog of 460,000 asylum cases, is already unsustainable. The UNHCR expects a further 1.2 million in 2017. The migration challenge is an issue that EU policymakers, which means the EU Commission, have failed to meet.
First, the EU did not recognise that it is a global challenge and not primarily a European one. Command and control should be in the hands of the UN, as the noble Lord, Lord Soley, has indicated.
Secondly, the EU has failed to make, let alone implement, practical but crucial distinctions between asylum seekers, refugees and economic migrants. Nor has it produced reliable methods of identifying Islamist jihadists who have been infiltrating the present crisis.
Thirdly, the EU Commission has been focusing on the symptoms: the people smugglers who have caused so many deaths with unscrupulous methods by both land and sea. As we now know from my noble friend Lord Tugendhat’s report, although the EU’s Operation Sophia has, wonderfully, been saving 1,000 lives a day, it has failed to reduce illegal migration or deter the criminals who facilitate it. In practice, it has, from the start, merely offered a safe passage to destination for those in peril on the sea. Therefore, it is, in itself, a huge incentive to take the risks. Indeed, for the coming summer surge of migrants across the English Channel, it would probably be cheaper and more humane to issue them with Eurostar train tickets if, when intercepted, they cannot be returned directly to the country from which they set sail.
Fourthly, the EU Commission has laid down for each Schengen state unenforceable and unenforced quotas for the number of immigrants to be received. These quotas have, quite predictably, been ignored.
Fifthly, the Turkish deal is collapsing. In part, that is because the Turks are demanding visa-free entry into Europe, which EU Governments will not grant; added to which they have also been given the prospect of EU membership. However, both sides on the referendum campaign have made it absolutely clear that that will not happen for decades, and the Turks rightly recognise it to be a bogus offer. Also, from last week, the repatriation of migrants to Turkey is being challenged in the European Court of Justice on multiple human rights grounds, ironically by two Pakistanis being held on the Greek island of Lesbos. This strikes at the heart of the legal architecture of the Turkish deal.
In place of conscience-salving tokenism, surely it is better to face up to the horrors of reality. There has always been pressure for economic migration, but it is now magnified a thousand times by the spread of knowledge of world conditions through social media and by the current military conflicts. In practice, economic migrants will not be deterred until the standard of living in the countries to which they wish to move is only marginally higher than what they have at home. This is not a social issue: it is simply the operation of market forces. It can be controlled only through economic assessment by the recipient Governments of the numbers they need. Ultimately, that is a national political judgment—it is certainly not one for the EU Commission to make.
Last week, the EU Commission proposed a €62 billion investment fund, mainly for Africa, as an inducement to co-operate in curbing migration. I am afraid that in most African countries, a lot of that will end up in the bank accounts of the “big man” and his cronies. I am not sure that that is a clever use of EU funds.
I hope very much that the migration partnership framework, which the EU Commission announced one week ago, and which I gather could include a UN-led global resettlement scheme, may mean that it is at last moving towards what I proposed in this House a year ago. I return, therefore, for the third time, to my proposal for a holding area, probably in Libya, to which migrants would be transferred. Libya is huge—it is three times the size of France, and with only 6 million people, it is sparsely populated. It is in a state of chaos with an expanding ISIS presence, for which the international community bears quite a bit of responsibility, and where military intervention, probably by the West, will soon become necessary.
I have no time to repeat all the details, except to say that it envisages using solar power for desalination of the sea, thus making the desert bloom, and the use of NATO forces in blue helmets under UN mandate to establish, administer, protect and guard the holding area to which all migrants can be taken. There they would be sustained, cared for and processed, with some going where they want, and others returning home, with perhaps the eventual establishment of a permanent population in a new state, which I have called Refugia.
Many noble Lords will recall the last weekend in May, when more than 700 refugees drowned in quick succession. It is in their memory that I wish to call on this Government to open up further safe and legal routes of migration as requested in this excellent report.
Desperate people do not make rational decisions. They take to unstable dinghies, put their families at risk and entrust their future to the hands of the unqualified, who may well have pure motives, or the unscrupulous, who do not. In either case, neither offers very good odds. The report we are debating expresses regret at the refusal of the UK Government to participate in EU relocation strategies, and it urges, both at UK and EU level, that more emphasis be put on establishing safe and legal routes of migration. Many noble Lords have called for community-based private sponsorship, medical evacuation, humanitarian visas, family reunion, academic scholarships and labour mobility schemes. Any one of these offers an orderly and controlled form of migration. Collectively they describe a minimum human response to desperate neighbours.
The arguments against such mechanisms were also captured in the report. It is suggested that the number of beneficiaries would be so few in relation to potential refugees that it is not worth it. There is a fear that these routes would expose us to terrorist threat, and that establishing such routes would act as a pull factor.
These are poor arguments. The fact that we can do little is a wholly inadequate reason for refusing to do what we can. In spite of intelligence from Europol, it is simply the case that people are coming in in this way, those intent on doing harm will do so by any means, and they do not need the sanction of formal status to do so. The bloodshed in Syria and the conflict in failed states within the Middle East and north Africa are driving millions to flee. They are not being pulled. They are being pushed. Even those in the relative security of refugee camps face decades in limbo, in circumstances that do not offer a life with prospects or dignity.
All this is not just about what is right for those fleeing. This is about what is right for us. This is the country that gave refuge to my parents, Michael and Nina, the children of Samuel, Ruchel, Soloman and Maternal, who themselves had been given serial refuge both as children and as adults—five countries in just three generations, three generations that survived and prospered, unlike so many of their friends and family because they were given repeatedly safe and legal routes of migration until my siblings and I were born in the safety and security of the United Kingdom.
The philosopher Peter Singer famously asks: “If you had just bought a beautiful pair of shoes and saw a child drowning in a shallow pond, would you save your shoes or save the child?”. Unanimously, people answer, “Save the child”. He goes on: “If there are others present, would you still save the child?”. Invariably, the answer is yes. People recognise that their obligations belong to them, irrespective of the obligations of others. Finally, he asks: “What if the child were far away, perhaps in another country, but it remains equally within your means to save them at no great danger to yourself?”. Virtually all agree that distance and nationality make no difference to one’s obligations.
Her Majesty’s Government talk of solving the problem “upstream”, yet upstream we have problems of great magnitude, poetically described by the right reverend Prelate—proxy wars, climate change, unequal distribution of global wealth, food scarcity, conflicts, failed states and terror. And we have no expectation that those problems will be resolved very soon. That leaves us, I am afraid, with Peter Singer’s challenge: do we let people drown because they are out of our sight?
The safe and legal routes proposed describe an achievable lifeline for a human being in desperate need. They undermine smugglers, give hope and choice in the intractable lives of those forcibly on the move, and allow us the privilege of not standing by, dehumanised by our inaction.
I had hoped to say the names of the dead, just as we do for those who perished in 9/11, 7/7 and Hillsborough, and just as we do for fallen soldiers or indeed Members of your Lordships’ House when they pass away—we name our dead to honour their memory—but in spite of considerable effort, no one could provide me with names. The final indignity of the desperate is that they are a number, not a name. But I can remind the House of three year-old Alan Kurdi, who washed up on a beach last year, and the outpouring of compassion that accompanied that young child’s death. It is in his name that I ask Her Majesty’s Government to reflect the long-standing values, compassion and leadership that my family benefited from and open up new, safe and legal routes to the UK and, in doing so, offer safety to the few—too few perhaps—but dignity to us all.
My Lords, I thank the chairs of our two reports, the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, and the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat—under whom I had the privilege of serving on this committee. I do not want it to sound like Tony Blair if I keep wishing him goodbye, but I hope he will not go too far away.
I found that it was not until the speech, relatively late in the debate, of my noble friend Lord Marlesford that we really got round to gripping the problem here. The subtitle of the report of the committee on which I sat, An Impossible Challenge, is really what we should address. In a democratic state such as we are in, we have to realise that this impossible challenge must be met. The current problems and perception in Britain have to be faced head on.
I have risen in this House previously to point to the many legal migrants in this country, particularly from the EU but also from elsewhere, and the huge contribution they make, but I am afraid that in the way this debate is often handled people conflate illegal and legal migration, not recognising that the vast number of people in Britain who were not born here are here legally and are contributing enormously to the community. This is one reason why we have to tackle the problem and come up with a solution. Frankly, whatever the rights or wrongs may be, Europe will not accept unlimited numbers of refugees, as Chancellor Merkel is currently finding out.
We are also in a situation where, as our Prime Minister said, many,
“are not asylum seekers, but people seeking a better life”.—[
Seeking a better life is not wrong. Most of the legal migrants in Britain are here seeking and finding better lives. But we have to look at ways in which we can deal with the problem of illegal migrants. Sophia is part of it but only a small part. The noble Lord, Lord Soley, outlined a way forward. There are other ways forward, but they will probably involve some sort of haven in north Africa. One problem at the moment is that if you are rescued at sea, you have effectively won the jackpot. All you have to do is get on a boat and be rescued, as opposed to sink, and you are okay. That is a very lottery-based approach.
A long time ago, a great Conservative politician, Robert Peel, drew the distinction between legitimate public expenditure and other public expenditure. I believe that one mistake this Government have made has been in cutting back public expenditure on both the coastguard service and Border Force. Why do we not look at the lorries as they get on boats to come to Britain? Because we have cut the number of people working for Border Force. Dedicated civil servants were doing an extremely good job and we decided to cut back the numbers employed. We decided not to put the latest technology on the docks in Calais and other places to X-ray and look through the sides of lorries to see whether human, breathing life was inside. One thing we must face up to is the need to reverse those cuts and not to continually tell civil servants and union members that they are useless. If we want to control borders, let us start by taking the legitimate steps within our own hands to control our own borders.
We also need a slightly less sentimental attitude towards some of the illegal migrants who are here. I was interested to see last Sunday—I am looking at the right reverend Prelate, because this is largely about his profession—Reverend Pete Wilcox, Dean of Liverpool, who has baptised 200 asylum seekers in the past four years. He said:
“Mixed motives are not unheard of”.
Later he admitted that,
“there was no similar rush to convert to Christianity from Muslims who already had British citizenship”.
It would appear that that is a fairly open loophole. The reverend prelate also said:
“I can’t think of a single example of somebody who already had British citizenship converting here with us from Islam to Christianity”.
That is clearly an abuse of process, and there is a lot more in this article and elsewhere. We need to toughen up a little because it is not fair to the legal migrants who are here if we behave in that way.
All migrants in Britain should be treated properly and should be given an honoured place in society because they work very hard when they are here. I also believe, however, that our current migration policy is not fit for purpose, so I challenge the Government to follow the advice of the great John Maynard Keynes:
“When the facts change, I change my mind”.
I believe that the facts have changed over recent years and I invite the Government to have a fundamental rethink about how they approach the problem.
My Lords, I add my thanks to those already expressed to the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, and the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, and their committees for their respective reports on subjects of more than usual interest at the present time.
Operation Sophia has been running since the middle of last year. Its purpose is to disrupt people smuggling in the southern central Mediterranean through gathering information and intelligence and by destroying boats used by people smugglers. The committee’s report indicates that the operation has not been an outstanding success to date, with no arrests of key figures in the smuggling networks, no effective disruption of the networks since the operation acts only on the high seas, and an inability so far to even operate in Libyan waters, let alone onshore, with the weakness of the Libyan state being a key cause of the rise in smugglers using that route through the Mediterranean. The report concludes that Operation Sophia does not and cannot deliver its mandate. It goes on to state that there is an urgent need to address the root causes of irregular migration to Europe and calls on the European Union to build resilience in the countries of origin, target the profits of the smugglers, provide support in-country and inform and engage the public on the phenomenon of the mass movement of people.
If there is to be a coherent and sustainable solution to the irregular migrant crisis, there must be a crackdown on those who seek to take advantage of people in their time of need, and that means dismantling and putting out of action, by bringing to justice, the ruthless criminal networks that organise the precarious and dangerous journeys of large numbers of migrants who are desperate to reach Europe.
The second EU committee report we are discussing, which is on the EU action plan against migrant smuggling, considers the broader strategic challenges of migration policy and recognises that migration to Europe is part of a much larger phenomenon of the mass movement of people globally from the developing to the developed world, with the countries of western Europe, whether in the EU or not, acting as a magnet to those in the Middle East and Africa.
The purpose of the committee’s report was to look at the 2015 EU action plan against migrant smuggling ahead of the European Commission’s own review of the legislation on migrant smuggling which is due to be published this year along with proposed reforms. The action plan, which is one aspect of the European Commission’s 2015 European Agenda on Migration, sets out four priorities: enhanced police and judicial response; improved gathering and sharing of information; enhanced prevention of smuggling and assistance to vulnerable migrants and stronger co-operation with third-world countries.
The aims of the committee’s inquiry were to assess how the action plan against migrant smuggling contributes to the stated objectives of the EU’s agenda on migration; to establish whether or not its four objectives and the actions set out are the right ones to achieve the EU’s stated goal of rendering migrant smuggling a “high risk, low return” undertaking; to identify whether the action plan strikes the right balance between security considerations and the protection of migrants’ human rights; and to identify gaps and deficiencies in the current EU response to migrant smuggling in order to make recommendations for planned legislative reform.
The committee’s report reached a number of conclusions and made a number of recommendations; they appear overall to have been rather more enthusiastically received by the European Commission than they have by the Government, judging by the tenor and content of the respective responses. Its recommendations for creating safe and legal routes for refugees to enter the EU, and its regret that the Government have declined to participate in the EU measures for the relocation of migrants—allied to their urging that the Commission and all member states should make greater efforts to reach consensus on EU proposals on relocation and resettlement—did not go down well with the Home Office. The Home Office Minister for Immigration reiterated the Government line on providing support to those countries facing particular pressures, with the focus on helping the most vulnerable who remain in the region from which migrants arriving in Europe have left. The best way of reducing irregular migration flows, and with it migration smuggling, is of course to address the issues that have led to people fleeing or otherwise simply deciding to leave their own country or region. Conflicts in whatever part of the world lead to spikes in mass migration as people living in fear of atrocities and persecution flee for their lives in the hope of finding a safe, secure and peaceful environment elsewhere for themselves and their families.
Conflicts have adverse economic consequences as well. The loss of a home, employment and the prospect of any reasonable life ahead leads to migration flows. Climate change can have a similar impact. My noble friend Lord Anderson of Swansea drew attention to the impact of the population explosion, particularly in Africa. But achieving lasting peace in areas of conflict and addressing the tyranny of oppressive dictatorships and corruption, as well as appalling levels of poverty as a means of eliminating the root causes of mass migration is neither a smooth nor a quick process. It involves nations, particularly those in the developed world, working together to deliver agreed common objectives and being prepared to put in the resources, both financial and human, to achieve those objectives. It involves a recognition that international development activity and the associated necessary resource provision in its various forms has very considerable benefits for the nations providing those resources as well as for the nations receiving them.
However, we are a long way from being in that position, and in the meantime the issue and impact of mass migration, and with it migration smuggling, will continue to have to be faced up to by many countries around the world, including in Europe and including ourselves acting both jointly and collectively, and individually. In this country we had our own migration impacts fund to provide a resource to expand essential public services in areas where such services were coming under pressure as a result of an increase in population arising from migration. It was abolished by the incoming Government in 2010, which was not exactly a far-sighted or enlightened move.
The response to the committee’s report from the European Commission refers to the EU Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund which was set up to promote the efficient management of migration flows and the implementation, strengthening and development of a common EU approach to asylum and immigration, as well as to regulate specifically when emergency assistance could be activated. The EU Commission allocated emergency assistance funding to France last August to set up a site offering humanitarian assistance to around 1,500 irregular migrants and to support the transport of asylum seekers from Calais to other locations in France. Can the noble and learned Lord say what, if anything, has been our involvement with this fund, including as a beneficiary or potential beneficiary? The Commission’s response also refers to the setting up this year by Europol of a fully operational European migrant smuggling centre as part of the creation of a hub for sharing information on migrant smuggling in the EU. What is our involvement with and input into this newly-established centre, including the sharing of information? Perhaps the Minister could tell us when he responds.
The European Commission has also said that the recent EU-Turkey statement and co-operation with Turkey have been fundamental in tackling the exploitation of vulnerable people seeking to cross the Aegean Sea. It has, it says, ensured greater humanitarian assistance in Turkey in parallel with opening up new legal channels to the EU, and that credible action inside the EU to discourage smuggling and irregular entry while showing that legal pathways to Europe exist, is critically important. Can the Minister say whether the Government agree with that view?
The European Commission has recently set out plans for a new results-orientated partnership framework to mobilise and focus EU action and resources in its external work on managing migration. The EU’s intention is to seek tailor-made partnerships with key third countries of origin and transit to achieve results with the priorities being saving lives at sea, increasing returns, enabling migrants and refugees to stay closer to home and, in the long term, helping third countries’ development in order to address the root causes of irregular migration. Some €8 billion will apparently be provided over the next five years.
The Commission says that partnerships with third countries will take the form of tailored compacts that will reflect whether they are a country of origin or transit, or one hosting many displaced persons, and that in the short term the EU will deliver compacts with Jordan and Lebanon, and take steps to agree further cuts with Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Mali and Ethiopia. The EU also intends to increase its engagement with Tunisia and Libya.
The Commission goes on to say that member states’ contributions in these partnerships—diplomatic, technical and financial—will be of fundamental importance in delivering results. Can the noble and learned Lord say what our contribution will be to these partnerships? In their response to the committee’s report the Government say that they are participating fully in the EU’s discussions regarding all possible measures for dealing with the root causes of migrant smuggling at ministerial and working levels through playing a leading role in the implementation of the actions agreed by the EU and African partners at the Valletta summit last November. Can the Minister say what “playing a leading role” means in terms of specific actions that we have taken or have committed to take?
Also in response to the committee’s report, the Government say that they are working to assist in building greater judicial and law enforcement capacity from source and transit countries for the migration crisis as part of the Organised Crime Taskforce by exploiting every opportunity at source, in transit countries and Europe, to destroy the operating model of organised crime groups involved in organised immigration crime. Can the noble and learned Lord say how long this task force has existed, and what specific improvements have been achieved as a result of its endeavours?
I thank once again the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, and the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, and their colleagues for their respective reports, with their conclusions and recommendations on these increasingly important, high-impact and challenging issues that we have been able to discuss and consider today, and to which we now await the Government’s response.
My Lords, I would like to thank the European Union Committee for producing its report on the EU action plan against migrant smuggling and its report on Operation Sophia, and to thank all those who have spoken in this debate.
I would like to touch on some of those contributions for a moment. The noble Baroness, Lady Pashar, alluded to various proposals in the committee’s report. In order to see these in context, it is important to remember that as a nation we must maintain border security. We must maintain a coherent immigration policy. As has been acknowledged, public opinion, if nothing else, would demand that we maintain such a coherent policy.
A number of your Lordships observed that the European Union cannot accommodate all those who wish to come. That is clearly a truism. The Government’s opinion is that there is little evidence to support the proposition that providing opportunities for a small number of migrants to travel legally from source countries will have any significant impact on the very large numbers of migrants who are prepared to travel illegally into the European Union. As the Government recognise, there will of course be some vulnerable people in Syria and the region who can be effectively supported only in countries such as the United Kingdom. That is why the Prime Minister announced the major expansion of the Syrian vulnerable persons relocation scheme under which we will provide refuge for vulnerable people.
I turn to the contribution of my noble friend Lord Tugendhat. I congratulate him on his chairmanship of the committee, which is now coming to an end. I hope he will accept that what is impossible today may become possible tomorrow. As many of your Lordships observed, this is a complex problem for which there are only long-term solutions. There are no simple immediate answers, although I note that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, has asked me for some. I will come on to that in a moment. Looking forward, we have to see changes in areas such as Libya, with stability of government there, before we can reach any kind of effective result in the Mediterranean.
The noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, referred to the crime of people smuggling. It is an immense problem, considered to be the fastest-growing crime in Europe at present. Indeed, the sums involved have been estimated at anything between €3 billion and €6 billion. She mentioned the shift from the Aegean to the middle of the Mediterranean. On that, the Turkey agreement appears to be succeeding. The numbers crossing the Aegean up until the beginning of June are about 10% of what they were a year ago. We have not seen an entire shift of those numbers into the middle Mediterranean. Indeed, the most recent numbers from the middle Mediterranean were slightly lower than they were a year ago. But we will all accept that these smugglers are ruthless criminals. They will find another route, and we have to be prepared to address that as it emerges. Indeed, we have to be prepared to seek the intelligence that will allow us to pre-empt these criminals when they seek these alternative routes.
The noble Baroness also made the point that it is important to distinguish between refugees and economic migrants. That is an important part of the issue. Indeed, we find that so many of those who present themselves as refugees, as asylum seekers, are in reality economic migrants. That is often not an easy issue to resolve. One has to acknowledge that the more economic migrants come forward to claim that they are asylum seekers, the greater the pressure on our resources and therefore the more difficult it is to process those who are genuinely refugees. Indeed, I note in passing that more than 90% of the asylum claims in the United Kingdom are made by persons already here, and who have therefore arrived illegally or under a visa and overstayed their visit. That is the extent of the problem.
Again, as the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, acknowledged, long-term solutions are needed. Those will be found at source more than anywhere else. My noble friend Lord Horam pointed out that the problem lies at source. That is what drives people away from these countries in sub-Saharan Africa. He also mentioned Jamaica. He made a further important point. As these countries lose their best, their youngest, their best-trained and best-educated, it exacerbates the problem at the source. They lose their doctors, nurses and engineers; they lose a viable economic future. That is why it is important not only to stop this economic migration, but to have an effective and viable returns policy. That is welcomed by some of these countries, which want to see their best-educated return to their own country.
The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, alluded to the fact that we cannot accept all who wish to come here. That is absolutely clear. It is therefore necessary to invest our resources in dealing with the problem at source, whether it be health, economic or otherwise. Indeed, we ought to try to maintain a system whereby we give temporary shelter to genuine asylum seekers so they can return in due course. That is why we have encouraged and sought to support those countries that are doing so much in the vicinity of Syria, such as Lebanon and Jordan. They are maintaining facilities for many refugees who want to remain in the Middle East and want the opportunity to return to their own country in due course. We acknowledge the importance of that.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Sheffield alluded to what we need to do when people actually arrive here. Of course, we cannot ignore the need for sanctuary of those who arrive, and I do not believe that any of us would wish to do so.
My noble friend Lord Patten raised the question of what we are doing on the ground, and when we might do something on the ground in Libya. Of course, part 3 of Operation Sophia deals with moving into territorial waters and on to the coast to try to address people smuggling. That cannot be done until we have a stable Government in Libya and appropriate approval from the United Nations. It remains part of our medium or long-term proposal for that project. I am not aware of any request from the present Libyan Government for us to put people on the ground in Libya. If it transpires that there has been such a request, I will write to the noble Lord, but I believe it is widely understood that we cannot take that step into territorial waters or into the territory of Libya until there is a stable Government.
In that context, I have a further observation on a point raised by one of your Lordships about returns to Libya. Let us be clear: there is no question of persons being returned to Libya unless and until it is a safe place for their return, whether they have been picked up in the Mediterranean or elsewhere. When my right honourable friend the Prime Minister alluded to the possibility of returns to Libya, it was in the context that it would occur only when it was safe for such persons to be returned.
I appreciate that I have not mentioned the contributions of all noble Lords expressly, but I hope it will be appreciated that I have taken all of them into account and wish to consider them. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, raised a number of specific questions about policies that have yet to be implemented and decisions that have yet to be made in the context of certain proposals. In particular, he referred to our contribution to the proposed EU partnerships. I am not aware of any decision having been made on that, but I will inquire and write to the noble Lord on that point. On specific improvements arising from the implementation of the task force, I suspect that it is too early to say that there are improvements we can isolate and report on, but, again, if there are, I undertake to include that in my letter.
We have to remember that the EU action plan against migrant smuggling is intended to shape the EU’s law enforcement response to immigration crime. It sets out concrete actions to counter and prevent organised immigration crime. The Government share the view expressed in the action plan that there should be a focus on an enhanced police and judicial response, improved gathering and sharing of information, and stronger co-operation with third countries. The UK’s response to the migration crisis must be comprehensive, utilising expertise and resources from across government and law enforcement. In order to be successful it must include a humanitarian response, law enforcement activity and capacity building in source countries.
Of course, some of those making the dangerous journey to Europe are fleeing conflict but others are economic migrants. That is why we are leading the argument in Europe about the importance of breaking the link between these journeys and achieving settlement in Europe for those who are not refugees. We are playing a leading role in tackling organised immigration crime. We have established a multiagency Organised Immigration Crime Taskforce, which brings together officers from the National Crime Agency, Border Force, Immigration Enforcement and the Crown Prosecution Service. Its purpose is to exploit every opportunity to identify and tackle people smugglers.
The Organised Immigration Crime Taskforce is working in 17 countries, giving UK law enforcement unprecedented reach in source and transit countries. The task force is achieving success, both on land and at sea. Land enforcement agencies have had some notable successes. Between
The task force is also working to enrich the intelligence picture. Officers have been deployed to the existing Frontex debriefing centres in Italy and Greece. There, they are assisting other agencies to gather intelligence from migrants arriving at external EU borders. This information is passed to the host member state for it to disseminate to law enforcement agencies.
The UK also engages closely with the European Migrant Smuggling Centre—which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and I think by the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar—which leads for Europol on organised immigration crime. The UK is a key contributor and we are working to improve the overall intelligence picture by encouraging countries to share information effectively with the centre.
In addition to our relationships at a European level, we are also engaging with our closest neighbours to create a strong joint response to migration. We are working closely with the French, Dutch and Belgians to increase the security of ports with links to the United Kingdom and increase co-operation against organised immigration crime. Such work has so far seen improvements in joint work on security measures at ports, intelligence sharing and returns. Activity will continue to determine what additional operational, technological and infrastructure assistance could be provided at relevant ports.
As well as pursuing the criminal gangs involved in immigration crime, the UK is also working with source countries to address the root causes of migration. Through our aid programme around the world we are growing economies and creating jobs. This in turn helps to build more effective states and societies, reducing some of the pressures to migrate. It also helps undermine the business model of organised crime groups. We are also at the forefront of the response to the crisis in Syria, where the United Kingdom has committed over £2.3 billion—our largest ever humanitarian response. The UK’s support is helping refugees to remain in host countries in the region and supporting host countries to accommodate them.
In Libya, the UK is supporting the Government of National Accord to regain control of Libyan borders and tackle the organised crime groups. Operation Sophia, the EU’s naval operation in the central Mediterranean, has already seen some success. Since its inception last summer, Operation Sophia has destroyed more than 120 smuggling boats on the high seas, apprehended more than 70 suspects and saved more than 15,000 lives. This is good progress on which we can build.
The UK survey ship HMS “Enterprise” has been participating in the operation. To add support during a surge of assets in October and November, we also contributed HMS “Richmond”. But the smugglers are of course adept at changing their tactics, so we must be aware of that and be prepared to respond. That is why we have agreed with EU partners to expand Operation Sophia’s scope to include activity to build the capacity of the Libyan coastguard and to prevent the trafficking of illegal arms into Libya. We remain committed to moving to the later phases of Operation Sophia, to prevent smugglers putting to sea, once the right conditions are in place. With a new Government in Libya, we have an opportunity to take this forward—and, therefore, what has seemed impossible may in the medium to long term become possible.
In May of this year, the Prime Minister announced that four military planners had deployed to the Operation Sophia headquarters in addition to the UK personnel already present. They are working on options to build the capacity of the Libyan coastguard and, in due course, we expect to support the delivery of this with a UK training team. This activity will help secure the coast of Libya and harden the operating environment for people smugglers.
The Prime Minister also announced that we will seek to commit a second ship to Operation Sophia to tackle arms smuggling to Libya. The UK has worked hard to secure a UN Security Council resolution authorising member states to take action to support the embargo. This was agreed unanimously last night. The arms that are illegally supplied from the Mediterranean reinforce violent armed groups, and Daesh in particular. Countering the flow of weapons and military equipment will support the wider effort to promote stability in Libya and a stable Libyan Government.
The work of Operation Sophia is just one element of wider UK efforts to support the humanitarian needs of migrants. The United Kingdom is providing £70 million to the Mediterranean migration crisis response. Some £60 million of this is allocated to Europe to provide lifesaving aid to migrants and refugees, as well as support to Governments to build their capacity to manage arrivals. At the EU-Africa Valletta summit, the Prime Minister announced a further £200 million in bilateral aid to Africa to deal with the root causes of migration and a €3 million contribution to the EU trust fund for Africa. I say that in response to the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser.
In the Horn of Africa we are supporting the Khartoum process that was mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, which focuses on combating organised immigration crime and human trafficking in the region. The goal of the process is to encourage member countries to work in a co-operative manner to tackle the shared challenge of organised immigration crime. It aims to achieve an improved understanding of this threat and to establish ways to strengthen capabilities in the region. It is not easy and requires us to engage with certain regimes when we might otherwise not wish to do so.
The law enforcement approach outlined in the EU action plan against migrant smuggling is one element of the EU’s response to the migration crisis. This is complemented by the United Kingdom’s law enforcement, as well as wider activity such as Operation Sophia to meet the humanitarian needs of migrants, tackle the root causes of migration and respond to the ever-developing challenge posed by criminal people smugglers —and in that we maintain our intent. I thank noble Lords for their attention.
My Lords, I thank all the Members of the House who have participated in this debate and the Minister for his response. This has been a very thoughtful and compassionate debate and some very good suggestions have been put forward. It is encouraging that we can discuss an issue of this nature with humanity and with some constructive thoughts. I underline my thanks to all the Members but, at this time of the evening, I do not wish to respond to each point that was made but to say that I beg to move.