Migrants - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:37 pm on 25th November 2021.

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Photo of Lord Harries of Pentregarth Lord Harries of Pentregarth Crossbench 4:37 pm, 25th November 2021

My Lords, other noble Lords have spoken about the terrible tragedy in the channel, and I identify with what has been said, but I want to look more widely at this issue. Even if we can solve the question of highly dangerous crossings, it is good to recognise at the outset that the issue of asylum seekers and refugees is not one of those problems that will be solved in the short term and will, therefore, have to be managed. It is not going to be solved in the short term because, for the foreseeable future, there will continue to be truly desperate people fleeing oppressive regimes, areas of violent conflict and acute starvation, a situation which will be accentuated in future years because of the effects of climate change. People are desperate enough to undertake hazardous journeys over long distances because the alternative, quite simply, is worse. So the problem will have to be managed humanely and fairly, with common sense and a sense of perspective.

We can be very grateful that the UK is acting humanely where it matters first and most of all—actually rescuing people in danger of drowning in la Manche, the English Channel. That is and must remain the first priority. Then, the refugees, whether they are genuine asylum seekers or economic migrants, must be housed humanely while their cases are processed. It was very reassuring to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, that that is the case—it was good to hear.

My particular concern is that the responsibility to care for and later settle those who are allowed to remain should be shared fairly by the country as a whole. At the moment, as is inevitable, refugees arrive predominantly at Dover and are the responsibility of the people and councils in that area. What extra financial and other support are they receiving? Are the people in those areas, and those local authorities, satisfied that they are getting the amount adequate for the task that they have to perform? This is a national responsibility, and I believe that the country as a whole wants to have a share in this and not just push it off on to a few areas. Those areas need wider support.

Then there is the question of resettling those who have been allowed to remain and those whose cases are still being processed. At the moment they are going predominantly to the north-west and the north-east. In the north-west, for example, there are 1.6 asylum seekers and 0.7 people with refugee status per thousand of the population. In the north-east it is 1.4 and 0.2. In stark contrast to this, in the south-east there are only 0.1 and 0.2 per thousand of the population. The argument in favour of this disparity is obvious—the south-east is heavily overcrowded. However, fairness demands that local authorities in the north-west and north-east, as well as those in the Midlands, are given all the support they need for this resettlement work. Much of the UK’s wealth, as we know, is in the south-east. I stress again that this is a national responsibility, so how much support are the north-east, the north-west and the Midland region, in particular, receiving to help with this resettlement, and are the local authorities in those areas satisfied with the help they are getting?

The last thing I want to say is that we need to keep this issue in perspective. In Lebanon, 19.5% of the population are refugees. In Jordan, the figure is 10.5% and in Turkey, it is 5%. Within Europe in 2020, Germany was hosting well over 1 million refugees. According to UNHCR statistics, at the end of 2020 in the UK there were 132,349 refugees, 77,245 pending asylum cases and 4,662 stateless persons. This is not an insignificant number, and I do not in any way underestimate it, but we need to keep it in perspective. It is not going to go away in the short term; it needs to be managed humanely, fairly and with common sense. This is a shared responsibility and we need to make sure that it is equally shared between different parts of the country.