Refugees and Migrants: International Summits - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:49 pm on 7th July 2016.

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Photo of The Earl of Courtown The Earl of Courtown Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 5:49 pm, 7th July 2016

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, for enabling the House to have this debate and me to make some of the points that I will make in this speech. Let me first set the context. As other noble Lords have mentioned, more than 65 million people are forcibly displaced worldwide, a third of whom are refugees. Alongside them, many are embarking on risky journeys for economic reasons. This global crisis has reached unprecedented levels.

As well as the clear humanitarian concerns, the situation risks fuelling organised crime and reducing resources for those in genuine need of protection. It also undermines public confidence in the controlled, safe and legal migration that brings significant economic and development benefits to the global community. As the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said, this is the time for the UK to show itself to be a responsible global player. A more sustainable global response is urgently needed.

The United Kingdom is leading the international policy debate. We are pursuing a comprehensive approach by responding to the immediate humanitarian crisis and using our aid programmes to deliver stability, jobs and livelihoods, reducing the pressures that force people to migrate. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, mentioned, we hosted the Syria conference in February, which not only raised more in a single day than any previous event, but established a new approach to providing long-term support to neighbouring countries and the displaced Syrians they are hosting. I would mention places such as Lebanon, Jordan, other countries in the region and of course Turkey.

In 2015-16, DfID spent £540 million on economic development in Africa and £500 million on humanitarian support. The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, mentioned the problems of poverty, and this will go some way to putting money where it is needed most. The United Kingdom is also at the forefront of the response to the crisis in Syria and the region. As noble Lords are well aware, we have pledged more than £2.3 billion, our largest ever humanitarian response. One must always remember that whichever country and whatever area we look at, the United Kingdom is more often than not among the top three contributors to humanitarian aid.

We are not operating in isolation. The UK is working with the international community and with our partners and allies to shape a global migration framework. We have played a leading role in addressing the situation in the Mediterranean, including joint work with European partners in the Horn of Africa through the Khartoum process and providing expertise and practical help to Greece and Turkey

2016 is a pivotal year, offering an opportunity to build a sustainable global response, placing greater emphasis on global responsibility-sharing, on reducing large-scale irregular migration and on providing protection and humanitarian support to those who need it. A series of high-level international meetings across the year are providing the context in which we will pursue a new global agenda on migration. Many of these forthcoming international meetings have been mentioned in the debate.

My right honourable friend the Prime Minister discussed migration with his G7 counterparts at their summit on 26 May. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that the G7 leaders recognise that this is a global challenge requiring a global response. We are committed to increasing assistance to meet the needs of refugees, displaced people and host communities, and to encouraging international financial institutions and bilateral donors to bolster their assistance.

Also mentioned was the first ever World Humanitarian Summit held in May, which was attended by 55 leaders. The United Kingdom led the way to securing agreement that the humanitarian system needs to reform and forge consensus on the way forward, in particular through a renewed commitment to compliance with international humanitarian law. Improving the architecture to tackle forced displacement and migration was a major theme running through the summit, as was the need to ensure that the most vulnerable—girls and women, youth and people with disabilities—are not left behind. We have been exploring with our NATO allies an enhanced NATO role in tackling migration in the central Mediterranean, including when Defence Ministers met in June. Migration will be on the agenda at the Warsaw summit in July.

Her Majesty’s Government have also been working with G20 partners to consider how leaders can build on this new approach to protracted crises when they meet in China on 4 and 5 September. The G20 summit will immediately precede the two summits which the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, highlighted in his title to the debate: the UNGA high-level event on large movements of migrants and refugees, hosted by the UN Secretary-General, and the US summit on refugees to be hosted by President Obama.

The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, mentioned migration and the UN summit. I agree that it is critical that all states, wherever they are in the migration chain, take responsibility to provide protection to those who need it, and for tackling irregular migration. A key UK objective for the summit is to increase global responsibility-sharing. We want those who currently do not offer resettlement to establish mechanisms. The outcome of the summit is likely to call for all equitable responsibility-sharing, according to capacity and circumstances.

The UK hopes that the UN Secretary-General’s summit on 19 September will build on the consensus over the practical actions that should be taken. It will seek to agree a new global compact for refugees and lay the groundwork for a global framework for dealing with irregular migration. The compact will reinforce the 1951 convention and the 1967 protocol and have a focus on responsibility-sharing for refugees. We are discussing with other UN member states, including Ireland and Jordan as co-chairs of this process, what should be included in the compact, engaging both in New York and in capitals.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, mentioned the Wilton Park forum, and the discussions that have contributed to the development of the guiding principles on responding to protracted enforced displacements: the work through national and local systems; support to host communities and social cohesion; the economic participation and growth; impactful and innovative financing; and improved data and evidence. Those principles exemplify the shift that we want in moving from a purely humanitarian response to protracted enforced displacement to the application of development approaches alongside humanitarian responses.

These principles became the critical input for the world humanitarian summit in Istanbul in May. The United Kingdom aims to secure these principles as a key part of the declaration and refugee compact agreed at the United Nations summit. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, went on to ask another question to which I will respond in writing, and I will provide answers in the Library for all those who have taken part in the debate.

As noble Lords are aware, the following day, on 20 September, President Obama will host a leaders’ refugee summit aimed at making new and significant commitments to strengthen the international response to the global refugee crisis. This includes securing increased funding to humanitarian organisations and UN appeals, doubling the number of resettlement places, and providing opportunities for education and legal employment to increase refugees’ self-reliance and inclusion. Senior United Kingdom officials have been engaging closely with the United States, including through a recent visit to Washington and New York, to identify how the United Kingdom can best support its objectives. The United Kingdom is encouraging other countries to put forward resettlement commitments, and to commit to donating money—maintaining the push and forward momentum—following the Syria conference.

The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, and other noble Lords asked about the resettlement of unaccompanied minors, in particular in relation to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, to recent legislation. On 21 April, Her Majesty’s Government announced a new scheme designed with the UNHCR to resettle children at risk from the MENA region. The Government committed to resettling several hundred individuals in the first year with a view to resettling up to 3,000 individuals over the lifetime of this Parliament, the majority of whom will be children, where the UNHCR deems it to be in their best interests. The new scheme will be in addition to the 20,000 already committed to and mentioned by many noble Lords. I have figures relating to that which I will come to later in my speech.

The scheme encompasses unaccompanied children, separated children and other vulnerable children, as well as those at risk of child labour, child marriage and other forms of neglect, abuse or exploitation. We established an additional £10 million Refugee Children Fund for Europe which will work mostly in Greece and will prioritise unaccompanied and separated children. It will provide immediate support and specialist care, alongside legal advice and family reunification where possible. UNHCR, Save the Children and the International Rescue Committee were selected to implement this programme.

On 4 May, the Government announced they will work with local authorities on plans to resettle unaccompanied children from Europe. We are looking to transfer children who were already present in Europe before the EU-Turkey deal came into force on 20 March where it is in their best interests. We must put the best interests of children first and avoid any policy that places children at additional risk or encourages them to place their lives in the hands of the people traffickers and criminal gangs. In any response, we need to be careful not to inadvertently create a situation in which families see an advantage in sending children ahead, putting their lives at risk by attempting perilous sea crossings to Europe.

I apologise to the House for going over my time limit but I think it is a good idea to get these points on record. The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, referred to Calais. While the management of migrants in Calais is the responsibility of the French Government, the United Kingdom recognises that vulnerable people in the camps are at risk from exploitation and trafficking. This is why the United Kingdom Government fund a project run by a French NGO to identify and direct vulnerable people to protection, support and advice within France. At the UK-France summit on 3 March, both countries reaffirmed their commitment to addressing the issues raised by the migration pressures in Calais and the surrounding area. The United Kingdom will contribute £17 million to joint work with France to ease migrant pressures in the Calais region and further strengthen the UK border.

The United Kingdom and France run regular joint communication campaigns which inform individuals of their rights to claim asylum in France and give them information on family reunification. The frequency of these campaigns has been increased in line with the joint declaration signed by the Home Secretary and French Interior Minister in August 2015.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, and other noble Lords asked how many people have so far been resettled. In the year ending March 2016, a total of 2,441 people were resettled in the United Kingdom. Of these, 1,667 were resettled under the Syrian VPR programme. The others were resettled under our mandate and Gateway schemes.

I am pleased that the noble Baroness raised the important topic of predictable financing. The United Kingdom was at the forefront of devising and brokering the grand bargain between donors and implementing agencies at the world humanitarian summit in May. These 10 principles will make major donor funding more predictable over multiyear timeframes and with reduced earmarking.

I know that I have not answered a number of questions. I will write to all noble Lords and provide the answers as best I can and place copies in the Library. I conclude by assuring your Lordships that we will continue to engage internationally through the range of our bilateral relationships and through multilateral channels at the United Nations and within the European Union, while we remain a member. We will continue to focus on a positive, proactive agenda, building alliances and making the case for a comprehensive and truly global response. And we will continue to ensure that the United Kingdom remains at the forefront, leading the way in both the discussions and through our actions.

House adjourned at 6.05 pm.