Migrants - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:44 pm on 25th November 2021.

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Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Labour 3:44 pm, 25th November 2021

My Lords, the timing of the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, was appropriate in getting the date for this debate, but apart from her wish to have better co-operation between Britain and France, I am afraid that I part company with pretty well all of her arguments. I do not see refugees coming here, fleeing for safety, as a terrorist threat to this country; nor do I see the evidence that she has put forward for all the other awful things that will befall, or have befallen, us.

We are a country that has traditionally had humanitarian principles. We are a country that has had a sense of decency. We are a country that has believed that the vulnerable of this world—those suffering from persecution—are entitled to safety. They cannot all come here. Only a small proportion come here, but those who do we should welcome and give them a chance to resume their lives. I am disappointed at the negative thrust of what we heard.

I will say briefly that what happened was a tragedy, and of course many people have said that it was only a matter of time before there was an awful accident in the channel—but perhaps it is a wake-up call. I argue that three things point the way forward. Yes, we have to improve our relations with France; not in some of the words that have been used but with a proper, warm, genuine and sincere relationship with the French, such that we can co-operate with them. Yes, they have committed faults, but we have committed faults, and we cannot get an agreement with them if we start blaming them, as if everything is their fault. Let us remember that the French take three or four times as many refugees as we do, so, for all the argument, they are playing a better part than we are. Let us also remember that the majority of the people who arrive by boat, or their predecessors who came in the back of lorries, are given refugee status by the Home Office, so someone must believe that they have a proper fear of persecution and are entitled to safety.

Secondly, we need safe and legal routes for people to come here. When the Government closed their borders on child refugees in northern France, they did an enormous service to the traffickers, because the one way in which they get business is if there are no safe and legal routes for people to come here. I am talking about people who want family reunion and who have a connection with this country, through language or education and, above all, family ties. What could be more important than a child or teenager—yes, perhaps a young man—wanting to be with a brother, an uncle or their parents? Surely that is the basis for a decent society. The Government closed that door and, in the Nationality and Borders Bill, seem to be even more intent on closing it in the future. That will not help at all.

Thirdly, we surely need to move towards a Europe-wide policy. We cannot do all of this as one country without agreement with others. People fleeing for safety is an international issue—and there will be more of them, because of climate change. We can deal with that only through proper co-operation, not just with France but with all the other countries that are affected. If we had a Europe-wide approach, there would not be this pressure to move from one country to another; there would be decent common standards, and we could move forward sensibly.

The comment in the noble Baroness’s speech that I particularly take exception to is that these people represent a terrorist threat to this country. Nothing could be more damaging than to say to local communities of somebody who has fled the war in Syria or fled from Iran, Iraq or wherever, “Watch that person because they are liable to kill you”. That is surely the most awful accusation to make against our fellow human beings who are fleeing for safety and who want nothing more than to resume their education and their lives, which have been so messed up. Please let us look at the humanitarian traditions of this country and apply them to the difficult situation that we now face.