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My Lords, I am grateful for this opportunity to raise this vitally important subject, particularly at this time of year. My entry in the register of interests contains a number of interests that might be seen to be relevant, including my position as vice-president of the United Nations children’s fund, UNICEF.
There are close to 30 million displaced children around the world today—in 2018, towards the end of the second decade of the 21st century. Approximately half of those children are refugees or asylum seekers. The other half are internally displaced within their own countries. Those who are refugees, whether accompanied or unaccompanied, and those seeking asylum, whether accompanied or unaccompanied, have some guarantees under international law and some protections from the international agencies, but time and again we see countries turn their backs on those laws and protections and refuse to adequately finance the humanitarian response required when these children spend sometimes many years in camps. Children who are internally displaced do not even have those rights or the possibility of being covered by international law or by the humanitarian response, because the responsibility for them primarily lies with the nation state and the Government of the country in which they live, even if that Government are part of the problem that has led to the children being displaced in the first place.
Millions of these children are unaccompanied—without their parents or guardians, older friends or relatives. Many of them travel thousands of miles before they find a new home. Almost all live in fear of one kind or another. It is sometimes estimated that up to 7 million more, have been displaced by extreme weather events and natural disasters, such as the recent tsunami in Indonesia. These children not only live in fear of violence and abuse, but many of them experienced it before they left and experience it on the way, in some cases time and again. The impact of this displacement and trauma on their personal development, on their education, on their health and perhaps most critically on their mental health is almost incalculable.
Some are survivors of boats that have capsized in the Mediterranean. I met young lads in Sicily 15 months ago who were among the few survivors from a boat that had capsized. Not only had they travelled thousands of miles to get to the boat, not only had they spent time in a detention camp in Libya and seen horrors there, not only had they been through the frightening experience of being on a boat that capsized, but they had struggled to swim and get on to a rescue boat as others drowned alongside them in the sea. The mental trauma that they experienced—not only the boat capsizing or the fear of the boat capsizing but the trauma that they carry with them when they land in Italy, Greece or somewhere else—is stark and has a massive impact on their condition.
There are children in Bangladesh currently living in fear of being returned to Rakhine state in Myanmar. They have already seen horrors that no child should ever see and now face the prospect of being sent back home, with the endorsement of the international community, to fear such violence again. Some children from Syria have now spent five, six or seven years in refugee camps across the border in Iraq, Turkey or Jordan. Yes, there is some form of health service and schooling, but temporary schooling is not schooling—education is more than that. These children have been there for almost all their primary school years, or more than their secondary school years, and many will never recover that missed opportunity.
I could go on and list a number of other examples. More than 50% of the refugees currently in northern Uganda are children, from South Sudan and elsewhere. There are children freezing and starving at the moment in Greece, a European Union country, who have made their way—sometimes unaccompanied, sometimes because their parents died in the water on that trip from Turkey across that small gap, the Mediterranean Sea—to be stuck in Greece because that country cannot deal with the capacity issues of their applications and the European Union does not want to know any more. All this should make us very angry: this is 2018; this is the 21st century. These children are the global scandal of our time and the international response—not just the national response in individual countries—lacks urgency, depth, real commitment and resources. We in the UK are in a position to do more about it and we should.
On 10 and
I am strongly in favour of creating safe routes, or safer routes, and protecting children along the way, but they also need to have the global rules that were put in place a long time ago to guarantee their rights whenever they arrive at their destination, chosen or otherwise. There has to be a proper global partnership between what we used to call the rich world and the poor world, between the developed and the developing world, between different continents—because these children travel over continents and between continents as well as across countries. My first question to the Government is: will the UK be represented at this intergovernmental conference at ministerial rather than official level, unlike with some recent events of this sort? Will we agree to endorse and adopt that global compact, should it be agreed at the intergovernmental conference in Morocco on 10 and
Ever since a visit to refugee camps and displaced person camps in Iraq a couple of years ago, two children I met have stuck in my mind. One was a story of hope, I suppose: a young lad called Ahmed who, when I asked in a classroom what his ambitions were, first told me that he had come from Mosul and was internally displaced. He had no rights in the international system apart from the provisions that we and others were trying to make available through UNICEF and others. He then told me that not only did he want to do well in school, but that he wanted to become an engineer and go back to Mosul. He wanted to go home and rebuild the city he had come from. Later that day I met a young girl called Safa, whom I have mentioned in your Lordships’ House before. She had come from Syria and had been in the camp at that point for three or four years: she is probably still there. She was very confident, 11 years old, able to talk quite coherently about her experience, her family’s experience and the suffering they had seen, but when I asked her how she was doing at school, she burst into tears. The thing that really got to her was that her grades had gone down: that was what really mattered to her in terms of her personal confidence, her as an individual, where she could go in life.
I want to talk briefly about those who are displaced, because we have to keep those who are already displaced in our minds and not forget them. It is too easy, when they are not in the headlines, just to forget that they are there. There was a commitment over recent years to create a global Education Cannot Wait fund. I know that the UK made an initial contribution, as others did, but the targets of that fund have never been met: it is not yet a sustained international commitment. It seems to me that we, as a champion of education internationally, could do more to promote that fund and make sure that it succeeds in providing the kind of education required in these camps, for these children, over so many years. My next question to the Government is: what is our ongoing commitment to education funding for those children in refugee and IDP camps? What are we doing to convince others to make a bigger contribution too?
That education is worthless if the children are not safe. We, like many other European partners, have expertise. Those in northern Europe, western Europe and some parts of central and Mediterranean Europe as well have many decades of experience of child protection systems. They have sometimes let children in this country down, but in the main, if they are implemented properly, they provide a good example to the rest of the world. I would be interested to know today what we are doing to assist those who are trying to protect children when they are in refugee or IDP camps from the sorts of predators that exist in those locations—both inside the camps and those who might traffic them elsewhere.
The second question that I want to raise is: what happens to those on the move? Fifteen months ago, I met Nikki in Sicily. She had run away from Nigeria and would not want me to tell the House today what the circumstances were, but she was desperate to move for all sorts of reasons. She was very afraid of some things and was pregnant when she left Nigeria. When she arrived in the detention camps in Libya, she was six months’ pregnant and spent a couple of months there. When she was eight months’ pregnant she got into a boat without a lifejacket, along with 250 others, to go across the Mediterranean Sea and arrived in Sicily. I do not think any of us can imagine her experiences along the way—at every border or every time the traffickers stopped and she was passed on to somebody else—or what she experienced even as a pregnant woman in the detention camp in Libya, which we are partly financing.
We therefore have an obligation as we have been part of, and will probably continue in some way to be part of, the European response to that crisis of migration across the Mediterranean. We have an obligation to do more to ensure that the routes which people follow are safe. We need to do much more to ensure that the conditions are safe for people to live inside those Libyan camps where there are Libyan security forces, if we can call them that, and to which the Libyan coastguard is returning people—and that they are properly assessed and assisted rather than just abused and rejected. I would be interested to know more about what the Government are doing to learn the lessons of recent years and to improve that relationship with Libya, which has been central to the European strategy.
The third thing I want to raise is the position of those who might move in the future. I do not want to repeat all the arguments made in a previous debate in your Lordships’ House today. However, if we are to ensure that there are fewer children fleeing violence, war and conflict or fleeing starvation, poverty and ill health in the future, then the sustainable development goals surely are that driving force which will allow us, and others, to contribute to greater prosperity at home. That will mean that fewer children have to be on the move in the future, for whatever reason. In relation to this, goal 16 on peace, justice, strong institutions and human rights has to be central. I welcome very much the Government’s recent doubling of the UK’s contribution to the UN peacebuilding fund but we have to ensure that these children are protected at home—that they have the rights so that they are not forced to run. We could also do just a little more with our technical expertise to help build resilience in those places where extreme weather events result in millions being displaced.
Finally, if we are to adopt new immigration laws in this country as we leave the European Union over the coming months, surely we can do something about our family reunion laws. Surely we can find a way so that more children—they have to scrape their way across the Sahara and somehow find their way across the Mediterranean, then when they get to Europe must battle to get to Calais and find their way over here—can legally come to this country and be reunited with their families without having to go through all that trauma and horror.
In the 1960s, the images of children in Vietnam being bombed by the Americans caused international outrage. In the 1970s, the images of children in Soweto being massacred by apartheid South Africa caused international outrage. In the 1980s, there were colour pictures—perhaps showing this for the first time so vividly—of children starving to death in front of our eyes in Ethiopia during the famine, and they caused international outrage and action. Surely in this decade and this century the position of these children, which is the global scandal of our times, can cause that international outrage and then we can do more, faster and more effectively, to help them.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, on securing this debate. It is especially timely since it is just a day after we celebrated World Children’s Day, when we should be thinking, as he said, about how we ensure that all children have rights, wherever they are and whatever their condition.
I shall focus my remarks today on the implications of displacement for street children. What do I mean by “street children”? They are children who live or work on the streets most of the time, either on their own or with other children or family members. They may live or work on the streets only some of the time, but their time on the streets is important to them. As the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, said, children can be displaced for a variety of reasons. The appalling scenes of people fleeing conflict with their families are strong in the mind but we need to think of what happens after that, as he said. Any event such as this can cause children to be displaced and on the streets for the whole of their young years and adolescence.
The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, cited the example of the tsunami but I have in mind that of northern Nigeria, where the Fulani herdsmen are migrating southwards because of desertification and have lost their grazing land. That has caused not only families to move and children to be displaced but some interfaith conflict. There is so much that needs to be resolved.
A frequent reason for children to be displaced is that of the economic demands made by their family—indeed, it can be the result of family breakdown itself. As the noble Lord said, a major cause of the displacement of children is conflict, which can be anywhere, any time. There is conflict such as the internal conflict in South Sudan, where violence has raged for the past five years. Over 1 million people have fled the country—many to Uganda, as the noble Lord said—and 2 million have been internally displaced. I welcome the signing of the peace agreement this summer but so much more needs to be done to make it a reality. The noble Lord was right to point out the duty of the international community to take action, so the UK, as a member of the troika alongside the US and Norway, has a vital role to play in encouraging the parties to observe the peace. So of course do the members of the African Union, and the UN more generally, but in the meantime 72% of children in South Sudan are out of school and girls are more likely to die in childbirth than to complete secondary school.
Wherever children live, they should be treated equally and protected from people and policies that can harm them. The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, referred to international laws and he is right to point out that they work only if individual states sign up to them. The major international agreement for children is of course the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is the most universally accepted of all UN human rights instruments and the most comprehensive in its promotion of children’s rights—civil, political, economic, social and cultural—informing other human rights standards through a framework of state responsibilities, applicable to all children within the jurisdiction of those states which have signed up.
To assist in the interpretation of the rights under that convention, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child issues general comments from time to time. In June last year, the Committee adopted General Comment No. 21 (2017) on Children in Street Situations. That provided Governments with authoritative guidance on how to ensure that they offer the same human rights protection to children in street situations as they do to any other children within their jurisdiction. It was the first time that children in street situations had ever received this level of recognition, and explicitly recognised as rights holders under the Convention of the Rights of the Child.
The analysis behind the general comment was based not only on what we might call the usual way of doing things, which is to have research and submissions by states, civil society and academia; it was also informed by research collected by the Consortium for Street Children, which worked with member organisations around the world and used a new process of listening to the children themselves and asking them to identify the areas for action. General Comment 21 urges states to develop comprehensive, long-term national strategies on children in street situations, using a holistic child-rights approach. This means that children in street situations should be treated as active agents in their own lives and involved in decision-making. They should not be viewed or treated as merely victims or delinquents.
Last week the AGM of the All-Party Group on Street Children took place. I am one of its co-chairs. We heard from NGOs in several countries about their work with street children. They emphasised the importance of the support provided by DfID for NGOs working in the field and how much the UK commitment to 0.7% was welcomed and respected. I appreciate that DfID profiles set out how its country programmes contribute to delivering the UK aid strategy. Will the Minister say how DfID takes account of the importance of targeting the needs of street-connected children in drafting those profiles? There was also a general welcome for UK government support in protecting children worldwide, whether the country qualifies for official development assistance or not.
The work of DfID and the FCO can, and should, play a strong leadership role in promoting children’s rights around the world. I would like to give a flavour of three of the presentations we heard from NGOs last week and ask the Minister to respond to a question related to each country. Alfred Ochaya is the director of the NGO SALVE in Uganda. SALVE stands for “support and love via education”. He and his colleagues work to help children gain access to education and stop living on the streets. One often hears about discrimination against street children, one aspect of which takes place in education. Often, street children are offered places at schools so far from where they spend their time that it is impossible to take up that place. SALVE tries to help them have an education. Alfred spoke in particular about the damaging effect on street-connected children of the way in which the “idle and disorderly” law is applied in Uganda. Have the Government had discussions with the Ugandan Government about reform of this law and its punitive application to street-connected children?
Catherine Scerri is deputy director of Bahay Tuluyan, an NGO in the Philippines that provides a variety of programmes aimed at preventing and responding to the abuse and exploitation of children. She spoke about how the pendulum is now swinging from protection to repression as a consequence of the President of the Philippines’ methods of addressing gang violence and drug trafficking. Have the UK Government had discussions with the Government of the Philippines on the importance of not stigmatising street-connected children and not condoning violence against them?
The third country is India. Sanjay Gupta is the director and founder of CHETNA, an NGO that works for the empowerment of street and working children in Delhi and neighbouring states. It engages in training authorities to protect street children and in empowering the children to advocate for themselves. Although it is not possible to know the exact number of street children in India, a quarter of a century ago UNICEF estimated that it was 11 million. More recently it has been estimated at 14 million, and even that is expected to be a wild underestimate. I am aware that since 2015 DfID has not given traditional aid to India, instead providing world-leading expertise and private investments aimed at boosting prosperity, creating jobs and opening up markets for UK businesses. How does DfID take account of the importance of targeting the needs of street-connected children in determining how UK aid will be allocated in India?
Last week, the Foreign Secretary gave oral evidence to the International Relations Select Committee of this House. It was a contribution to our current report on UK foreign policy in changed world conditions. It is a world where the international rules-based system is increasingly being undermined. The Foreign Secretary’s evidence is publicly available online on the House of Lords website. I was pleased to hear him say:
“We believe very strongly in the rules-based international order and in multilateral institutions”.
He went on to say that the UK has the ability to shape the,
“world order—not to control it but to shape it”, and:
“Because we are the country that, alongside the United States, was largely responsible for the current world order, I think people will be looking at us and asking what we are going to do to protect the values that all of us here believe in so strongly”.
I believe he is right. It is essential that in working to shape the world order in such difficult times and to protect the values we espouse, we should do all we can to ensure that children displaced from their homes internationally have their rights observed and supported.
My Lords, listening to my noble friend Lord McConnell and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, I am struck, not for the first time by a long chalk, by how fortunate we are to have two such people in our midst in this Chamber. They have both won respect across the House, irrespective of party, and the contribution that the noble Baroness made as a Minister was evidence of somebody who took what she cared about in this context and what she believed was important into action in so far as that was possible—and I think we all appreciate that.
My noble friend Lord McConnell is tireless on these issues. It is very difficult for an old hand like me to follow two such people because their information is so much more up to date and first-hand than mine. I have a wealth of information, but it comes from previous years. However, some principles continue to apply.
As I listened to them, and indeed as I prepared my own thoughts on the debate today, I kept remembering that, as we are constantly reminded, we are the fifth-wealthiest nation in the world. If that is the case and if we have a conscience or any sense of social responsibility, there should be no question but that on these issues we should be a world leader. It is not just about what we say but about what we do—and that of course means that we have to look at our own position here in the UK. I find it quite incredible that when these youngsters, who have been through nightmares of the worst order, manage to get here and are allowed to stay, we do not see that re-establishing family relationships for them is absolutely crucial. It might even save money, because in the end it might be much less expensive to ensure that some kind of family support is there for them in their predicament in this country.
We are going to be debating the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, next Monday, and it seems to me that between now and then the Government ought to brush up their arguments on this front. We need to know what they are doing to try to establish some way in which these young people can have some kind of family context in this country. This is of course all related to peace, stability and security. We want people who feel secure and confident and who are not alienated. That is where I think sometimes we have to think a bit more ambitiously about what we can positively do to help them in their predicament. It is important to do so before they become prey to extremists and others.
I try to keep in touch with the NGO community because I know from my own experience of working in that area that NGOs have first-class insight and experience that is very difficult for anyone else to challenge. I have been asking them what they feel about the issues before us today. One thing that Christian Aid, my old organisation Oxfam and others have been emphasising is that 50% of all internally displaced people are women and 40% are children. This increases in specific conflicts such as the DRC, where 60% of IDPs are children. Just think of it—60%. Some 17 million children are internally displaced due to violence in conflict, with many more displaced due to disasters. There were 2.18 million new internal displacements in the DRC, coming second only to Syria, yet the DRC has one of the most chronically underfunded crises. Only 20% of countries with data on conflict-related IDPs disaggregate this by age, compared to 56% for refugees.
In the DRC, towards the end of 2017, armed groups were occupying schools in South Kivu, Tanganyika and the region of Kasai, putting the education of 64,000 children at risk and increasing the risk of their joining armed groups. In 2016 the UN verified 2,334 grave violations against children in the DRC, including recruiting 492 children for armed groups. In Syria, acute malnutrition in children shot up in Ghouta from 2.1% in January to 11.9% in November, and infant deaths due to a lack of food were reported for three months from October to December. In Yemen, 75% of IDPs are women and children, with children severely at risk of missing out on education. In 2016, 45% of marriages recorded involved girls under the age of 15. Those are some of the realities with which we are confronted.
So what are front-line workers recommending to us? They are reminding us that they are calling on the UN Secretary-General to commission an independent expert report on IDPs, to create a global focus on the issue, to garner good practice and to engage with states with high levels of IDPs. They welcome the UK Government’s commitment to the global plan of action, GP20, and their support of a high-level panel for IDPs, but they urge the UK to ensure that an independent expert report is commissioned as part of the high-level panel.
IDPs face the same vulnerabilities as refugees but do not have the protection of refugee status. They are more likely to be displaced to host communities where it is harder to identify them. Humanitarian crises with large numbers of IDPs are chronically underfunded compared with those in which there are high levels of refugees. IDPs struggle to access services such as education, health and food, which are woefully lacking in IDP camps. Where they can access these services in host communities, it is often to the breaking point of the services and the detriment of host communities, who are often in poverty themselves.
I can think of no more immediate and urgent situation than that of the crisis of the Palestinian displacement. I take this opportunity without qualification to put on record—here I speak with first-hand experience—the tireless, imaginative, selfless work undertaken by UNRWA. The decision by the President of the United States to slash the US contribution to the work of UNRWA was one of the most wantonly irresponsible and wicked things done by a leader in recent years.
What are we thinking of? Do we really want to encourage extremism and increase the likelihood of instability and chaos in a situation where people have already suffered too much? Of course not—but if we do not, education in particular is crucial for deprived communities. There has been tremendous emphasis in recent years on primary education, early school education and, perhaps, secondary education—but university education is also vital for deprived people. We surely want them to be able to fulfil their potential and become leaders in their own right. We should not make higher education the preserve of others, when higher education for them is terribly important.
One other practical point needs to be emphasised. UNICEF and others are calling for improvements in data collection and monitoring of IDP children. One difficulty in devising policy is that there is so little reliable analysis and information about their plight—the noble Baroness spoke powerfully about that.
I come back to my starting point. We are the fifth-wealthiest country in the world. If we want to be respected and remain a world leader, whatever we do about Brexit, it is in the sphere of moral leadership that we should be demonstrating our commitments and priorities—not by asserting power but by asserting values, standards and example. That is what we need, and we need it strongly and with vision from our leaders. I thank my good and noble friend Lord McConnell most warmly for having given us the opportunity to have this debate.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the House for allowing me to speak in the gap to ask a specific question, and I promise to be brief. First, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, on his powerful and moving introduction to this important debate.
In my travels—I declare my interest as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Jordan and the Palestinian Territories—I have seen the misery and heartache of children far from home and, too often, alone and frightened. Like the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, I met a young man who survived the horrors of a boat that sank in the Mediterranean, only by holding on to the bloated corpse of someone who had died. I can only imagine what those horrors must do to somebody in the future.
However, I have also seen the great things that have happened, especially in education, which is important not just for the future of these children and young people, but to bring some form of normality to lives that are far from normal. I pay tribute to all those working so hard to provide education—the NGOs—and particular tribute to all that DfID does, of which we should all be incredibly proud. That is not to say that more cannot always be done.
Many of these young people travel alone, but many are separated from their families as they flee from horror. I cannot imagine what it must be like to lose your child, but to lose them far from home when they are already traumatised must be unbearable. I ask the Minister: what help is given to these parents, themselves vulnerable and seeking refuge, to help find their children?
My Lords, I add my thanks to those of other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, for bringing this debate to the Chamber. His concern for internationally displaced children patently runs deep.
The debate is timely. We heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, that last Tuesday was World Children’s Day. In addition, last Friday, I attended a commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the Kindertransport. The vision of one man, Sir Nicholas Winton, led to the safe evacuation of 10,000 Jewish children from Nazi Germany and the then Czechoslovakia. Families in Britain volunteered to open their homes to these children. The British people showed generosity then and, given the chance, they would do so today. The fact is that local authorities are willing and able to host many more refugee children than the Government will allow them to. At the event last Friday, some of those authorities, such as Hammersmith and Fulham, and Brighton and Hove, were able to restate their offer to house 100 child refugees each. Many others also indicated their willingness.
Over two years ago today, the Calais Jungle camp was demolished. On demolition, unaccompanied children from the camp were dispersed across France into hastily set up centres. In February last year, these centres were closed, and children were forced to leave them and sought help and shelter where they could. Vulnerable children were at the mercy of ruthless traffickers. The tragedy is that we in this House had succeeded in getting the Government to accept some of these lone children under the Dubs amendment to the Immigration Act 2016. The numbers that the Government undertook to take dwindled from an expected 3,000 to just 480. If the Minister is able to give the figures, how many of the Dubs places remain unfilled?
Surely, in the year we commemorate Britain’s role in helping children escape Nazi Germany, we can do the same for desperate children here in Europe today. At the very least, we should meet our legal obligations. We have heard the numbers: of the 68 million people displaced worldwide, over 50% are children. Many remain in their own countries, and we have little data on the plight of those estimated 17 million children. However, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre has argued that internally displaced children face problems accessing education in the same way as refugee children in UNHCR camps. Millions of children lose out on education after spending their whole childhood in places where hope is at a premium.
I am reminded of a young Sudanese boy I met in the Jungle camp in France. He was three when his family fled their village in North Darfur. He lost both parents and lived in the Kutum refugee camp near Khartoum. He was illiterate; he had never been to school—there was no school. He could not read or write Arabic, let alone English, and had very little spoken English.
He decided to leave the camp aged 14 because it was a dangerous place and there was no hope. He said that he took the decision to leave knowing it would be a dangerous journey, but he would rather die trying for a better life than die in that camp. Now he, Ismail, is in Dublin, where, after months of wandering around France, he was finally accepted as an asylum seeker and has refugee status. He is going to school and his future is transformed. In Ireland, I am pleased to say, he has no risk of removal now that he is 18. He would have been at risk of removal here in Britain and I hope we will look at that again and again, and try to change it. He is working hard and will be an upstanding citizen. He wants to do good.
Is Sudan a place to which we are forcibly removing people? Ismail is certain that if he had been returned to Sudan he would have been killed, because returnees are persecuted. On my recent visit to Sudan in September, I asked to visit the Kutum camp. I was told it would be too dangerous. I expect it was not a suitable camp to take a western parliamentarian to—it is too dangerous for me but not for a young child. The point is that, if the camp had been half way decent, with some hope built in for those for whom it represented sanctuary, he would never have left. Had there been the precious opportunity of education that so many people cherish, he would have remained.
Investment in refugee camps in regions where conflict has decimated the lives of many innocent civilians would pay huge dividends; it would reduce the push factors that force people to risk such dangerous journeys in their quest for a life without danger, and give them a little hope of a decent future. Does the Minister agree that much greater investment in bettering refugee camps and supporting exemplars such as the Bidi Bidi camp in Uganda will pay huge dividends, not just for the people who have to use them but for us here in Europe?
It is unfair that developing countries bear the brunt of supporting refugees. Poor countries such as Turkey, Pakistan and Lebanon host the highest number of refugees. According to the World Economic Forum, 84% of refugees live in developing countries. If poorer countries can do so much, why can we not? We are a rich country, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said. We are the fifth richest country in the world, and we are a generous country, but our Government are making the wrong moral choices and sending the wrong message on immigration, in words as well as in deeds. Terms such as “swarms” and “queue-jumping” are unworthy of our leaders.
So far, I have concentrated on child refugees who have reached our shores, because I hope we can find the means to do our bit in helping them. Will the Minister accept that we should do all we can to help those who are destitute and near us? Will she accept that the Government’s reason for not helping child refugees already in Europe—because they feel it will create a pull factor—is without any factual basis?
In the time I have left, I will turn to displaced children further afield. The UN’s global compact on refugees proposes changing the way in which the burden and responsibility for refugees and migrants is shared between countries. However, it is being undermined by the US’s refusal to continue to support it. What representations have we made to the US Government to encourage them not to undermine this important work? Are we giving it our full support in the UN General Assembly?
The tragedy in all this human suffering is that it is often manmade. The conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan, the suffering of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and the misery that is Yemen were all inflicted by men in power. Some of these we cannot influence. But in other areas, our strong voice and stance against such wrongdoing should make a difference. Why do we continue to sell arms to a pretty hideous regime such as Saudi Arabia when it uses them to bomb innocent women and children? It is clear that our processes to stop this happening are not working. Why are we unable to exert pressure on the Burmese generals and the de facto moral leader of Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi? The return of Rohingya people would be much easier if the Myanmar Government would accept independent observers to ensure they return in safety and dignity. Dignity means they should be granted citizenship. Why do we not use the leverage we have?
My Lords, the House is indebted to my noble friend Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale for securing this debate, which allows the opportunity to highlight the plight of some of the most vulnerable of our fellow human beings, displaced children.
This year is the 80th anniversary of one of the most extraordinary acts of commitment to human rights in history: the decision of this country to take in some 10,000 Jewish children rescued from the Nazis—a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan. Our noble friend Lord Dubs—I say this because I am sure the House will agree that Alf Dubs is a friend to all, on all sides of this House—was one of the children rescued. The noble Lord cannot be with us in person today, but he is here in spirit, I am sure.
Taking in the Kindertransport children was one of the finest acts of human kindness in the great history of our country. Last week 1,000 people, including some 60 survivors of the Kindertransport, met at the Friends meeting house and called on Britain to once again take in desperate, homeless, stateless children. They remembered how in just one year Britain offered sanctuary to 10,000 children rescued from certain death. Now they call for us to take in 10,000 children over the next 10 years. In a statement after last week’s gathering, Lord Dubs and others said:
“As former child refugees ourselves, we believe the UK government should give more children at risk the same life-saving opportunity that we had... Children seeking asylum have left their homes, their countries, their friends and families. They continue to live in unsanitary and unsafe camps or on the streets because the alternative is war, conflict and persecution. They have no other choice. But we do have a choice”.
Britain has taken important steps to help young refugees, but we have taken in just 240 children, while Greece, Italy, Spain and Bulgaria have taken in 20,000. I echo their plea to rescue these children. I hope and pray that our Government will listen.
We have known for decades that the impact of bad things that happen in a child’s early years will be devastating throughout adult life. My noble friend Lady Massey, whom I have the honour of serving alongside in the Council of Europe, is writing a report addressing the health needs of adolescents in Europe. In her draft, she reminds us that the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child notes that,
“achieving children’s right to health is dependent on the realization of many other rights”, in particular the condition in which people are born and where they live. My noble friend is right to argue that, to address the health needs of adolescents, we need international strategies to be implemented at national, regional and local level. She argues that addressing the health needs of adolescents is imperative, not only for the present generation but for the future.
UNICEF estimates that of the 65 million people currently displaced from their homes worldwide, around 30 million are children—a point made in the opening remarks of my noble friend Lord McConnell. I am sure that the House will agree that this is horrifying, but the human stories behind the displacement are far worse. It is the responsibility of government, the European Union and the United Nations to look at the wider causes that have led to this crisis. When there are more displaced people around the world than at any time since the Second World War, we must ask how diplomacy, conflict resolution and a failure of human rights have contributed.
Equally importantly, we should consider how our foreign policy impacts on the lives of refugees today. Be it Syria, Yemen or Myanmar, we must work with the United Nations and other multilateral institutions to end the violence that has led to the unprecedented displacement of people. We must focus the UK’s foreign policy on peace and development, and in the states that have hosted the greatest numbers of refugees—be it Turkey, which has taken in some 3 million people, or Lebanon, which has taken in 1.5 million—we must offer our support. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that countries are able to cope with the levels of displaced children and adults that they have received?
Sustainable development can alleviate the exact conditions that lead to displacement—a matter which the House discussed earlier today in a very good debate. Although the Government need to target action on the biggest drivers of poverty and inequality, they must act on climate justice, which could become one of the greatest drivers of forced migration.
We should also recognise that many—indeed, most—refugees are internally displaced in their own country. The United Nations introduced its guiding principles on internal displacement 20 years ago. Can the Minister explain how the Government support displaced children who remain in their home country?
Britain is party to a series of commitments made at the 2016 world humanitarian summit on internally displaced people, and it is vital that we ensure these commitments are met. Accepting a fair share of displaced children and offering a home to some of the world’s most vulnerable is a proud British tradition. It is the moral option in the spirit of international law and we should embrace it.
To those displaced children who find a home in the UK today, we must offer a warm welcome—not the hostile environment which it appears the Government have previously indicated to be their policy. Displaced children and refugees are not migrants. It is not right that those who have been forced from their homes by famine and war be met by anything short of open arms. Would we not want that for our children if they were in these circumstances? Too often the displaced children who reach the United Kingdom find themselves separated from the one aspect of their life which remains familiar to them—their family, the most important aspect.
Rules around refugee family reunion can be restrictive and confusing. Often, when left with the choice of staying in a dangerous situation or embarking on a dangerous journey to the UK, parents are left lost and separated from their children. Family separation, as well as language, can soon become a barrier to integration. The opportunity for displaced children to learn English is crucial. Unfortunately, the Government have cut funding for ESOL by over £100 million since 2010, and I understand that the recent integration strategy promised no new dedicated funding for ESOL. Will the Government ensure that all displaced children are given the necessary opportunities to learn English?
The current arrangements for housing are far from perfect and I encourage the Government to review them. Earlier this year, it was reported that in Glasgow the contractor Serco decided to evict up to 330 refugees, many of them children, until political pressure and protests led it to pause the move. That is a disgrace and a stain on this country’s reputation.
Those who flee and find a home in the United Kingdom, be they adults or children, deserve a domestic agenda that treats them as a positive attribute for Britain, recognising that they can and will make a contribution. We have a responsibility to help the world’s most vulnerable, and few groups are more in jeopardy than displaced children.
Finally, under the current arrangements, Dublin III provides an essential route to settlement in the UK. Can the Minister assure the House that under all circumstances post Brexit, the United Kingdom will remain in Dublin III or an equivalent? We have a chance to do something to help the most vulnerable. Just think: if it were our children, would we not want somebody to help them?
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, for highlighting the important issue of displaced children in this debate, and for his eloquent and powerful introduction. He gave us permission to be angry about the situation. I do not think we need permission. There cannot be a person in this Chamber at the moment who is not angry at some of the things that we have heard, and which continue.
This debate, coming just two days after Universal Children’s Day, which aims to improve child welfare and mark children’s rights to protection from violence and discrimination, is both timely and poignant. Whether refugees, asylum seekers or internally displaced, the numbers of children who have been forced to flee their homes by the horrors of conflict, violence and persecution are genuinely shocking and outrageous. Some 30 million children around the world are forcibly displaced today—more than at any time since the Second World War. Children make up a disproportionate number of the world’s refugees. They represent less than one-third of the global population but a staggering 52% of the world’s refugees today. A further 17 million more children are thought to be displaced inside their own countries.
But these big numbers do not convey the human horrors that no child should have to experience. We have heard case studies today. They are witness to violence and destruction, the fear and uncertainty of sudden night-time flight, the loss of friends, family and home. Once displaced, there is a risk of being preyed on and enslaved by smugglers and traffickers, of falling victim to child labour, sexual exploitation, child marriage or captivity. Each child has a story of individual, unthinkable tragedy.
I know that this is an issue close to the heart of many of the noble Lords here today, as it is to the British public who have time and again shown their compassion and their support for building a better future for children exposed to such horrors. Many noble Lords have said that we do a lot but should we do more? Of course we would like to do more. I cannot commit to that, as noble Lords will appreciate today, but I have no doubt that our Government are listening and will do what they can. Noble Lords are right to keep pushing, though, because we want to do everything in our power to help them.
That same unswerving support is at the heart of the UK’s continuing commitment to receiving and protecting displaced vulnerable children by offering them refuge here in the UK. That includes our commitment to transferring to the UK 480 unaccompanied children who have already made dangerous journeys into Europe—more than 220 have already been relocated, and efforts do not stop to ensure that the rest are relocated. We will also resettle 3,000 vulnerable refugee children and their families from the Middle East and North Africa by 2020; some 900 have already been resettled. This is in addition to the commitment to resettle 20,000 refugees under the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme. As of June 2018, a total of 12,851 people had been resettled in the UK since the scheme began, around half of them children.
It is important that we go where the need is greatest. But that does not stop at our borders. All around the world, the UK is at the forefront of responding to disaster, conflict and crisis, and our resources are focused on meeting the greatest need, concentrating our efforts on reaching the most vulnerable.
Our first response priority is on preserving life and providing immediate support. In Nigeria and the Lake Chad basin, for example, where an estimated 1.9 million people are internally displaced, UK aid has treated 25,000 children for severe acute malnutrition and ensured 260,000 infants, pregnant and nursing women received essential nutritional supplements. In Bangladesh, we are helping to vaccinate more than 350,000 vulnerable Rohingya children from an outbreak of deadly diphtheria.
Our £175 million Mediterranean migration response includes a £10 million refugee children fund for Europe to provide safe accommodation and we have vaccinated thousands of children against preventable diseases and provided hygiene kits, safe shelter and aid to vulnerable children in Libya. We have also committed £10 million to UNICEF to tackle violence, abuse and exploitation of children on the move in Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan. And just last month, the UK announced a major new aid package to Yemen to screen 2.2 million internally displaced children under five for malnutrition, with urgent treatment for 70,000 of the most vulnerable.
We do not take all things at face value, and we know that often the deepest wounds of conflict are invisible to the eye. Prolonged exposure to conflict, violence or fear and the anxiety and uncertainty that come with displacement mean most, if not all, children will experience some form of distress or trauma that has a long-term impact on their well-being and development. That is why the UK has recently committed to setting up the first donor group on mental health and psychosocial support, leading the way in pushing for a greater focus on responding to the effects of conflict on children. It is why we are matching pound for pound public donations up to £500,000 to War Child’s Learn to Live campaign, providing psychosocial and wider support to 3,000 children traumatised by war in the Central African Republic. Noble Lords are challenging us all the time to do more. One of the ways we can is to make our budgets go further by doing match funding, which I hope is something we will continue. Just yesterday,
I am sure all noble Lords have been appalled and angered by the situation with child slavery. Equally insidious, and often equally hidden from view, is the borderless scourge of forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking. Last year the Prime Minister launched the global call to action to eliminate this crime. A new package of UK programmes is now focusing specifically on child slavery across Africa and Asia. It includes support for up to 400,000 girls and boys at risk of slavery in the Horn of Africa and along dangerous migratory routes in Sudan and Ethiopia. Further support in conflict-ravaged parts of Africa will educate children on the perils of person trafficking, while a programme across six Asian countries will tackle the risks of bonded labour and clamp down on child trafficking.
We want to build a better tomorrow for young people who are displaced, and education is critical in that. Noble Lords have all raised the issue of the importance of education. The impact of conflict and displacement on children’s education can be devastating. More than one-third of children affected by crisis do not complete primary education and two-thirds do not complete secondary education. With each successive year of education lost, the human, social and economic costs rise. Access to education in conflict and emergency settings can mean the difference between a future of exploitation and one of hope. Helping to give children the tools to rebuild their lives will one day help them to rebuild their countries as well—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, in his powerful speech.
Our new education policy, which was published at the start of the year, sets out how we will target support for the most marginalised, including children affected by conflict and crisis. This is supported by specific initiatives, including an additional £212 million for Girls’ Education Challenge to ensure that almost 1 million marginalised girls receive a quality education, such as 20,000 girls in refugee camps in Kenya. The No Lost Generation initiative has helped more than half a million vulnerable children displaced by conflict from Syria and Iraq. Those children have access to education in host countries, including Lebanon and Jordan, as well as being provided with safe spaces, counselling and medical and psychological care. The UK is a founding member and one of the largest donors—£30 million—to Education Cannot Wait, which focuses on education in emergencies and aims to reach 8 million children by 2021. In Uganda, the UK has played a key leadership role in developing the first ever education response plan for refugees and host communities. The plan has set an ambitious target of supporting just over 550,000 learners per year over the next three years.
At the same time, the UK remains at the vanguard of work to shape and reform the international architecture for responding to the needs of displaced children. This includes steps to improve safeguarding standards across the aid sector, following the deeply disturbing revelations of abuse and harassment earlier in the year. We continue to work through and alongside some of the key institutions worldwide to support displaced children, including the UN Children’s Fund and UN Refugee Agency, EU systems, local and international NGOs and multilateral institutions such as the World Bank, where UK support has helped to secure $2 billion of new funding designed to help host countries respond to large influxes of refugees.
We have pushed throughout to ensure that the two new global compacts uphold the principle of the best interests of the child at all times. My noble friend Lady Morris described a parent losing their child. I have lived in a house in which someone lost their only child and it was terrible, but to be somewhere with no support services and see your child go is beyond belief. Unless we tackle conflict and violence at the heart of displacement, our interventions will only ever address the symptoms. That is why more than 50% of DfID’s budget is now spent in fragile and conflict-affected states. We have launched a five-year national action plan to put women and girls at the heart of preventing and resolving conflict, and we have dedicated more than $10 million a year to the UN Peacebuilding Fund to deliver often high-risk projects in fragile countries in order to prevent escalation and rebuild peace.
We aim to meet immediate, life-saving needs; help to heal the hidden scars of conflict; open the door to a brighter, more constructive future; and improve the way the world works together, which is very important, so as ultimately to tackle the underlying causes and try to build a world where children are not forced from their homes by violence, persecution, conflict and fear.
I will now take some time to answer the many questions which have been put to me. If I do not respond to them all, I give my word that I will write to ensure that they are answered. I turn first to the conference in Morocco. We are hoping for attendance at ministerial level; indeed, we hope and pray that that happens. But without mentioning the word that perhaps we will forget for today, we have big legislation to deal with and Ministers may be required to be present.
The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, asked about Libyan detention camps. We are providing £5 million of humanitarian aid in Libya to improve conditions. We continue to lobby the Libyan authorities to improve conditions but it is clear to us that a political resolution is essential. I have with me a Guardian article that talked about the UK funding Libyan detention centres that abuse children. Without going into chapter and verse, the facts were incorrect. That is not the case.
The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, spoke about refugees in Greece and the EU response. We are not planning further humanitarian support in Greece because large amounts of EU funding are available. The UK is playing a leadership role, supporting Greece and Turkey in implementing the EU-Turkey deal. I want to pay a real compliment to the Salvation Army, which established a presence in Greece a year before this crisis arose. It has done a sterling job of supporting individuals. Our support also increased the number of safe accommodation spaces for unaccompanied children in Greece. We will continue to do more. I will flesh out my points in writing to the noble Lord, rather than using up everybody’s time now.
Mental health is a big issue for young people both in this country and abroad; many of them have had a terrible time. It is important to address their mental and psychosocial needs. We will establish the first donor group, as I said, and match War Child aid. The Secretary of State has also announced a new programme on this issue in Lebanon and Jordan.
The UK is one of the largest donors to the refugee crisis in Bangladesh, especially through vaccinations, as I said. No returns of Rohingya people have taken place and the Bangladesh Government have respected the principle of voluntary returns. We will continue to make representations to both Governments to make sure that this continues.
I have talked about the importance of education; many noble Lords have raised it. I have also outlined the funding that we will put into it. My noble friend Lady Anelay gave me three questions to answer—some homework for me. There are an estimated 100 million street children worldwide. That figure is shocking but yesterday, we confirmed that we will match donations to Street Child’s “Count Me In” appeal pound-for-pound. I would like to see more of that. DfID recognises that children who live and work on the streets are among the most vulnerable in the world. One of the four objectives of the UK aid strategy is tackling extreme poverty and helping the world’s most vulnerable. If I may, I will write to my noble friend to answer the rest of her questions.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, made an important point about how fortunate we are to have people of such quality in this Chamber, such as the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, and my noble friend Lady Anelay. We are fortunate to have the noble Lord too; he continues to share his wealth of experience with us, for which we are grateful.
None of us is happy about the US’s decision to cut UNRWA funding, which is devastating for the Palestinian people, but what it does in terms of funding is up to it. At the end of the day, we have increased our funding to try to alleviate some of the shortfall there.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, asked about the remaining Dubs places. We are filling them as quickly as we can but we want to do a proper job and not rush.
I will have to write letters to a number of noble Lords, whom I thank for their contributions and for the time they spent preparing for the debate. I can confirm that the UK will remain steadfast in its commitment to supporting the needs of displaced children around the world. We cannot do enough but we must make sure that we do as much as we possibly can.
My Lords, this is the third year in a row when I have submitted a balloted debate on this topic just before Christmas, and I am delighted that I was successful in being able to lead this debate today, for the first time in those three years.
I am very grateful to the Members of Your Lordships’ House who have contributed this afternoon; there may have been few of us, but we made up for what we lacked in quantity in the quality, passion and detail of the debate. I am also very grateful to the Minster here this afternoon, the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott, for her attempt to answer as many questions as possible and for treating the subject very seriously in her response.
As I said earlier, I think this is the single biggest scandal in the world today. It is something that will shame generations to come if we do not deal with it. I think we have demonstrated today that, in the UK, we can make a difference. I am grateful for that opportunity.