Calais: Refugees - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:42 pm on 2nd November 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Berridge Baroness Berridge Conservative 3:42 pm, 2nd November 2017

My Lords, I declare my interests as outlined in the register. This debate is tribute to the tenacity of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, on behalf of refugees. The conditions in Calais are part of a refugee system that is under strain like never before. Those conditions are undermining public confidence in the effectiveness and humanity of the system, but another factor undermining the system in the general public’s eyes is whether it is just.

In July, after much parliamentary lobbying, the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme was expanded to allow non-Syrian nationals such as Yazidis to be selected to come to the UK. Despite much lobbying, inclusion in the scheme’s vulnerability criteria, set by the UK and given to UNHCR to apply, of religious identity or being at risk of religious persecution has been rejected.

The Home Office has recently released statistics on people from vulnerable religious groups recommended to the UK by UNHCR for resettlement. Of the 8,136 resettled in the UK in 2015-16, 70, or 0.8%, were Christians, 22, or 0.3%, were Yazidis, and 33, or 0.4%, were Shia Muslims. Therefore, only 1.5% were from vulnerable religious communities; yet 23% of the pre-war population of Syria were Christian, Shia, Alawite or Yazidi.

The violence experienced by smaller religious communities in Syria and Iraq is well known. The UN Security Council last month announced that it was establishing an international investigative team to explore the crimes against humanity committed by ISIS. Can my noble friend the Minister explain why members of Syrian and Iraqi religious minority communities are so under-represented in UK resettlement schemes, and why an individual’s religion or religious persecution has not been identified as a criterion of vulnerability?

I recognise that the devil may be in the detail and there may be an explanation for these figures, but there is a clearly a case to be answered by Her Majesty’s Government and, I might add—although it is of precious little comfort—by the United States Government. Will my noble friend the Minister and the Minister for Immigration in the other place meet interested parliamentarians to discuss UNHCR’s selection process and religious minority representation in the UK resettlement scheme? In particular, will the Minister invite the requisite senior officials from UNHCR who are in charge of delivering Her Majesty’s Government’s commitment to take in 20,000 refugees during this Parliament?

It will not be possible fully to understand what is happening without Her Majesty’s Government sitting down with the UNHCR, which operationalises the policy for them. The system appears unjust, and stopping the confidence leaking out of it requires a lengthy meeting between Her Majesty’s Government and UNHCR sooner rather than later.