I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the resettlement of Syrian refugees.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I thank the Minister and all hon. Members for their attendance to discuss this subject, which seems particularly fitting on Holocaust Memorial Day.
I am told that Syrian refugees arriving in Britain are asking three questions in particular: when can I learn English; when can I work; and when can my child go to school? A family who arrived in Kent in December already has an answer to the third of those questions. Their six-year-old daughter has now been at school in Ashford for four days. She proudly says that she has made a friend and learned how to write “dog” and “cat”. Her parents only wish that her sister could be at school, too, but her sister died last year in a refugee camp of a lung infection.
I am sorry to intervene so early in my hon. Friend’s speech, but she mentioned Ashford, so this is an appropriate time to ask her to join me in welcoming the courageous and correct initiative of Ashford Borough Council, which was so early in saying that it will provide accommodation for 250 Syrian families over the next five years, and its success in beginning to integrate them into British society.
Ashford is one of several councils I have spoken to and the effort, commitment and even enthusiasm they are putting into welcoming refugees are inspiring. They are at the forefront of that effort.
This is different, but I have a list of asylum seekers in receipt of section 95 support who have been in the country for longer than the Syrian refugees arriving now. As far as I can see, under the previous regime, Ashford provides a home to only one asylum seeker. Other boroughs in the country provide homes for more than 1,000. Why does the hon. Lady think that places such as Ashford and her own local authorities are stepping up to the plate now, but have not been prepared to do so in the past?
I hope we can explore many questions in the debate, such as how well we are doing at resettling not only Syrian refugees now, but asylum seekers who are already in the country, many of whom are in Kent. I will come on to the question of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children already in Kent, and perhaps the hon. Gentleman will address his own point if he makes a speech.
I was speaking of the family who arrived in Ashford. Theirs is only one story. Throughout our history, Britain has offered a safe haven to vulnerable people, from the French Huguenots in the 18th century, to the Kindertransport or the Ugandan Asians in the 1970s and now to the 20,000 Syrians, but recently we have heard about asylum seekers being made to wear wristbands or their doors being painted red, which is a reminder that, however well-intentioned we may be, we do not always get things right. That is why I asked for the debate.
After all the focus, particularly last year, on the number of refugees whom we should accept—people are still calling for more—it is time to talk about the practicalities of resettling our 20,000 refugees, to ensure that we are doing a good job with them. Have those who have already arrived settled in well? Are the children in school? Are the adults learning English? Are they in decent accommodation? How have they been received by their host communities? Are we on track to take 20,000? Will we manage that, or might we overshoot?
I look forward to hearing answers from the Minister and to hearing from colleagues, especially as I am sure that several of you represent constituencies that are taking refugees. If your constituency is not taking many, you might be able to encourage them to step up and take some more.
I accept that the debate today is about the resettlement of Syrian refugees here in the UK, but does my hon. Friend agree that we should also use our substantial Department for International Development influence and clout to get large multinational corporations establishing free zones to ensure that significant numbers of refugees in Lebanon and Jordan have opportunities to work there, so that they may stay in the region, although that may well be for months and years, and then to return to Syria, rather than coming to Europe?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. I have visited a refugee camp in Turkey and one of the things that struck me was people’s frustration that they could not work, which was one of the reasons why they wanted to leave the camps. Exploring work opportunities for people in the region is important, yes.
Having visited that camp in Turkey, as well as the migrant camp in Calais some time ago, I felt that humanitarian instinct, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could take in more refugees?” However, I feel strongly that there is no point bringing people away from the middle east, across Europe and far from their homes, their extended family and their friends, to a different culture and a very different climate in the UK unless we can offer them something better than the life they were leading in those countries in the region.
The hon. Lady is being generous with her time. On Thursday I, too, visited the jungle camp, with Secours Catholique who said that up to 300 people there in Calais probably have leave to remain in the UK but are trying to get here illegally because they do not know their legal rights. The Government are not providing enough access to lawyers or legal advice to get such people back into a country where they have leave to remain.
I am sympathetic to what the hon. Gentleman says and I have seen the desperation of the people in Calais. It is important that those who might have a right to live in the UK should be helped to explore the possibilities, but on the detail of the right way to do so, which is complicated, I will defer to the Minister.
Those whom we are bringing to this country through the resettlement scheme are among the most vulnerable—for example, they may have specialist medical needs or have suffered from religious or sexual persecution. We have a particular responsibility to get resettlement right for those vulnerable people. Only when we are confident that we are doing that should we have the conversation about whether to increase the number of refugees we are taking.
One thousand refugees were resettled in this country before Christmas, and we are due to take about 4,000 more this year. The Government, in my view rightly, has said that they will not impose refugees on any area, because that would be unlikely to result in a good experience for the refugees and possibly lead to resentment locally. The councils I have spoken to have welcomed the fact that it therefore feels as though it is their choice how many refugees they take. Those that have been quick to offer to house refugees feel proud to be at the forefront of the effort.
In the absence of centralised distribution, however, there is great uncertainty about where the refugees will go and how the 20,000 target will be met. Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether enough local councils have come forward and offered enough places for the coming year. Is the accommodation secured? Is this a commitment or an aspiration to accommodate the refugees? Are there enough places in the pipeline for us to achieve the 20,000 over the five-year period?
My constituency covers two boroughs, Swale and Maidstone. Swale Borough Council has committed to take two families a year. It previously resettled two Afghan interpreters, learning in the process about the pitfalls of placing migrants in a small, rural village in Kent. Maidstone Borough Council plans over the five years to take six single men, because of its shortage of family accommodation.
Councils tell me the settlement of about £8,500 per person is reasonable, if not generous, but some have told me that they are worried about what happens should the refugees move, as they are free to do. The funding follows the refugees, but what if the council has commissioned services or taken out leases, so its incurred costs will continue? Also, the funding for subsequent years decreases. Refugees are likely to cost less as they settle in, get work—I hope—and are more independent, but the worry among some councils is that future funding might not be sufficient. Will the Minister clarify how councils can ensure the necessary funding?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray, and I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. She makes some persuasive points about local councils. In my constituency and in the broader district of Bradford, under the previous gateway settlement programme, we housed many Syrian refugees who have made a positive contribution to the fabric of the district. On the cost to councils and the concerns that they have, many councils, including Bradford, are really suffering as a result of the
Government’s cuts and they are rightly concerned because they are often left to pick up the tab. I ask the hon. Lady to reinforce that point, which perhaps the Minister can answer and give some clarification on as well.
Thank you, Mr Gray. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s reference to the gateway scheme, which is highly spoken of both in this country and around the world as a good example of how to resettle refugees. We can use that experience to ensure that we do a good job with the Syrian refuges and this scheme.
On housing refugees, in the south-east, where my constituency is, the shortage of housing is a particular problem. Even though we are talking about small numbers of refugees—just a few families a year—many of my constituents wait years for social housing, private rents are high and only a limited stock of private rental housing can be paid for with housing benefit. However, the lesson from some councils is not to be deterred by those barriers. Councils should ask themselves and their communities not “Can we accommodate refugees?” but “How can we accommodate them?”
Kingston upon Thames is encouraging people who have empty properties, such as those who have elderly relatives in care, to rent them out to Syrian families, which has led to several homes becoming available. In Ashford and in Tunbridge Wells, some landlords and Churches have offered accommodation specifically for Syrian refugees. Those councils are finding properties that are not in the letting market rather than having Syrians compete for scarce market properties. In Faversham, in my constituency, Sir Bob Geldof has offered to put up three Syrian families in his home.
To secure a future in Britain, refugees need to work. In a refugee camp in Turkey, I saw for myself the frustration and demoralisation of refugees who are unable to work. It is therefore important that Syrian refugees are settled in areas where there are jobs so that they can work and there is no resentment that they are competing with British people for scarce jobs.
This is more of an issue for the Minister, but, given my hon. Friend’s experience on the ground, no doubt she will have a view. Given the acute crisis in the camps, which, I fear, are now a big recruiting base for extremism, is there any case for accelerating the process and having more migrants, provided that local authorities can cope, or is 20,000 over the next five years on a progressive basis the right way forward?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. I, too, heard about connections between camps and people going back to Syria to fight to get an income. I would be keen to hear from the Minister about accelerating the scheme and whether we could front-load or bring more people more quickly, but that must be done in the context of making sure that we are doing a good job with those we are bringing here. To ensure that we do the job well, it is important that the scheme where councils volunteer to take people continues and that councils do not have numbers imposed on them.
On jobs and qualifications, there are many examples over the years of people who have come here from places such as Afghanistan, where they were skilled professionals such as dentists, engineers, teachers and even doctors, but they find that their qualifications are not recognised in this country. They therefore find themselves doing other jobs and not making full use of those qualifications. I understand that it takes about two years to get a foreign qualification recognised in the UK, so will my hon. Friend the Minister tell us whether it is possible to expedite the process to get international and Syrian qualifications recognised in the UK? Obviously, there must be a requirement for appropriate language skills; it is clearly important that people speak English as well as having professional skills.
Some hon. Members are calling on the Government to take in around 3,000 more child refugees. That sounds like a wonderful thing to do. In Kent, however, already about 1,400 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and care leavers are being looked after by the county council, so services in Kent are under immense strain and foster homes are completely full. We have limited school places.
In November, the Government called on other local authorities to volunteer to take in some of the unaccompanied asylum-seeking children; but unfortunately, few have done so. Offers have materialised for just 35 of the young people. Kent has therefore welcomed an amendment to the Immigration Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, to make it possible to compel local authorities to accept young asylum-seeking children. While it would be a good thing to take in more refugee children and it should be considered seriously, I ask Members who are urging the Government to do that to urge their local councils to ensure, if possible, that they to step up and take their fair share of the young asylum-seeking children and minors we have in the country at the moment. We have got to do a good job by the ones who are here before we start taking in more.
We must not overlook the challenges of integration. There are cultural barriers, but because integration is a two-way process, there is also an opportunity to harness the good will of the British people. We have seen an enormous upsurge in people who want to help, which was triggered particularly by the pictures of what is going on in Europe and the image of the child on the beach last summer.
Communities have seized on the arrival of refugees as an opportunity to do something practical. I heard about a teacher in Tunbridge Wells who has given up their time to teach English to a recently arrived refugee. In Ashford, council staff started their own fund for refugees and donated toys to be given to children. The challenge, however, can be in channelling such offers, and some charities and councils have struggled to co-ordinate enormous numbers of volunteers, so I wonder whether some businesses might be able to help with match-making technology and in other ways or whether the Government could facilitate that, given that this is a problem throughout the country.
Our experiences show that if councils and communities embrace the refugee programme, it could be an incredibly positive experience. People in places such as Ashford and Kingston, and not least their councils, feel a real sense of pride in what they are doing. It is easy to think of reasons not to take refugees and to think about the barriers, but it is much better to think of ways to overcome those barriers, especially when the numbers are so small. If each of the UK’s 391 local authorities took just 51 individuals over the five years—that is about 10 families each—we would achieve the 20,000 target, and some are already planning to take five times that number.
Councils should be bold and take this opportunity to do the right thing. Those who are reluctant and cautious may be surprised by the support that they would receive from voters.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing the debate. She is talking with some pride about the many people who want to be of assistance in this unprecedented crisis, but does she agree that while some countries in the middle east are inundated with migrants, some nation states have not done anything to help? If we could see some of those nation states helping, that would certainly help people in the UK feel that everyone was putting their shoulder to the wheel to try to address this unprecedented humanitarian crisis.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We all—the whole of Europe and of the middle east—need to be seen to be doing our part. Some countries have been particularly criticised for not taking more refugees. I have heard, for instance, Saudi Arabia’s name come up. I am aware of countries that are taking refugees but not making such a noise about it. Some of this may be a question of communication, with countries taking refugees but not calling them refugees and giving them resident status. Those refugees are being integrated, and they have family members with them. In some areas, the process is just not so visible. There is no question but that the countries in the region around Syria are taking enormous numbers of refugees and putting a lot of resource into supporting them.
The Government should take on the role of facilitating the sharing of expertise on taking in refugees. We have lots of expertise, but some areas may be taking refugees for the first time and will be doing their very best but might not know what the risks are. I would like to see the Government ensuring that we do the best we can across the country and providing more ongoing transparency about how well the resettlement programme is going. Mistakes can and almost inevitably will be made. There is a risk that the generous funding—it is a substantial amount of money—might not be spent in the best possible way. Any mistakes should be quickly identified and addressed, to ensure they are not repeated elsewhere.
My final questions for the Minister are as follows. What is being done to help councils to access people or organisations with the expertise to help them with the resettlement programme? How are the Government enabling the sharing of that expertise and information on what is already known about how to resettle refugees effectively? How are the Government monitoring the resettlement programme to identify how well it is going, to pick up any problems as they emerge and to celebrate the successes?
I want to emphasise that final point: we should celebrate success. We should feel proud that Britain is the second largest donor to refugees in and around Syria, where the British pound goes much further than it does here in the UK. We should feel proud that we are giving thousands of the most vulnerable refugees a chance of a new life in Britain. Kofi Annan recently told “Newsnight” that Britain’s “effective and smooth” approach is the right one. We should celebrate the councils and communities that are stepping up to take refugees and the charities and the volunteers who are helping, while encouraging all those who are reluctant or sceptical to support this thoughtful strategy. Britain rightly has a reputation as a compassionate country of opportunity that welcomes people from around the world. Some have doubted us recently, but we should make that a reality for 20,000 Syrians.
Several hon. Members rose—
Before I call the next speaker, it is perhaps worth pointing out that a number of Members are trying to catch my eye. While I am not keen on formal time limits, I would have thought five minutes is about right for most speeches, out of courtesy to one another.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray, and a great pleasure to follow Helen Whately. She made an excellent speech, and I can happily say that I agree with everything she said. She has brought this important and serious topic to the House not only because we should be proud of what Britain has done but also because there are problems ahead that we need to address. The people of Kent and her local council need to be congratulated on what they have done.
I want to do something pretty rare: get up and congratulate a Home Office Minister on his performance. This could be the end of his career, but I want to commend the Under-Secretary of State for Refugees, Richard Harrington, for the work he has done in this area and for overseeing the one immigration target that the Government have actually managed to reach—certainly in the eight years that I have been Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. That target was the Prime Minister’s pledge, made in a full and open way, to ensure we have 1,000 Syrian refugees resettled in Britain by Christmas. The Minister did it, and he should be commended for doing so. Because of that success, our Committee will be pressing him even harder to ensure he delivers on the rest of the Prime Minister’s pledge.
We need to be conscious that this is not a crisis on its own. It is part of the most difficult crisis the European Union faces: the migration crisis. It is not going to get easier; it is going to get much worse. As we saw at the meeting in Brussels yesterday of EU Home Affairs Ministers, the crisis is dividing Europe and showing the fault lines that exist. There is a challenge to ensure that the overall refugee crisis and the migration crisis affecting the EU are seen in a much wider context than just what is happening in Syria.
All European countries need to be commended for the way in which they have singled out those from Syria in need of a fast-track service, which at the moment is being provided by the United Kingdom but not necessarily by other EU countries. When the Minister responds, I hope he will tell us more about what is happening on the deal made with Turkey. The European Union has pledged €3 billion to Turkey in order to ask it to provide better and greater assistance to those who have landed within its area.
Of course we need to do what we promised to do and take in the numbers that the Prime Minister mentioned. However, we also need to ensure that good allies such as Turkey and good members of the EU such as Greece are doing their bit to ensure that when Syrian refugees arrive in the EU, they are treated well. Indeed, if Turkey fulfils the promise it made to the leaders of the EU, it will be able to take EU funds and provide the kind of assistance that a number of hon. Members have said it should provide. The Minister will be aware that the way to solve the Syrian crisis is through the political situation in Syria. Unless we deal with that, and unless we have a stable Government in Syria, we will not see an end to a crisis that is clearly engulfing the European Union.
I have just three further points to make within your informal time limit, Mr Gray. The first is about the big and open offer made by a number of residents of the United Kingdom—including, I should say, my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper and the Archbishop of Canterbury—to provide assistance and shelter for Syrian refugees who are coming over. The hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent said that Mr Geldof—or Sir Bob, as he is now known—has offered sanctuary to some Syrian refugees. I cannot quite understand why the Government still have not acted on such offers from the British people.
In the Minister’s eloquent evidence to my Select Committee, he said that the Archbishop of Canterbury should, in effect, contact Lambeth Council if he had an offer of support. I can just imagine the archbishop on the phone to Lambeth Council, waiting to go through its automated system, finally getting through to some caseworker in the housing department and saying, “This is the Archbishop of Canterbury on the phone. The Minister for Syrian refugees has suggested I should ring and offer some of the rooms I have at Lambeth Palace. Could you tell me what to do?” I imagine the phone would probably be put down or the call transferred to another section of Lambeth Council—maybe the health department. We need something more concrete. Big offers have been made by the British people. Let us take those up.
Mr Burrowes and I were present at the Home Affairs Committee’s session yesterday when we heard from G4S, one of the Government’s providers of asylum accommodation, which I know is different from what is provided for Syrian refugees. G4S said that the number of asylum seekers in this country for whom it has to find accommodation has gone up from 9,000 to 17,000 in the space of just three years.
The pressure on council housing, and indeed the private rented sector, is now enormous. It will be extremely difficult to find available housing for those who are coming over. We need to be very serious about the issue of housing, because we do not want Syrian refugees to be placed in the same position as some asylum seekers in Middlesbrough were. Our Select Committee looked at that very subject yesterday, because we have enormous concerns about how asylum seekers were being housed there.
My final point relates to regular information. In the Minister’s celebrated appearance before our Committee, I asked him—he keeps reminding me of this—seven times to tell us how many Syrian refugees had arrived. He batted the question away like a great cricketer at the crease, faced by a number of fast-coming balls. He said he was not prepared to give a running commentary on the numbers who had come in and that we had to wait for the statistics that are published on a quarterly basis. He told everyone that except, of course, the Prime Minister, who decided not to wait till the publication of the quarterly statistics, but to tell the House of Commons first, in the last questions session before Christmas, to give us all a warm glow and a feeling of happiness that the Minister had reached his target. We think we should have regular information, and not just about the numbers who come in. We do not need to wait for the quarterly statistics, and we need to include information about inclusion, as the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent said.
When the Ugandan Asians came to Leicester and enriched that city and places such as Watford, where the Minister comes from, and other constituencies represented by Members here, we were able to include them in the mainstream of our country’s activities. Some of the Syrian refugees will want to go back to Syria when the country is stable and returns to prosperity, there is no doubt about that. Some will want to stay and be part of our country and live here for the rest of their lives. It is important to include the diaspora—there are many people of Syrian origin who have lived in this country for many years—in a formal or informal resettlement board, because Whitehall does not know best about these issues.
Thirty years on from when the Ugandan Asians arrived in Leicester, they are now an integral part of this country—indeed, some have even been elected to the House of Commons—and they have shown themselves to be model citizens. Let us use that example of what Britain does best, provide asylum to those who need asylum and include those people in the mainstream of our public life.
It is a great pleasure to take part in this debate, Mr Gray. I congratulate my hon. Friend Helen Whately on her speech, which was so comprehensive that what she said about the practical elements of resettlement does not need to be repeated. I will therefore take a wider view, although it will permeate through to the practicalities of providing the dignity that we all want to provide for those seeking refuge.
It is right that we are debating this issue on Holocaust Memorial Day, the theme of which is not to stand by when genocide is taking place. We have to say what it is: although we are responding to a humanitarian crisis, which is referred to as a migration crisis, we are also responding to genocide. It is important to say that, because the Yazidis and the Christians have been victims of genocide. It is important to say that—indeed, I call on the Government to say it properly and not to wait for international courts to say it—because there are implications of doing that, not least for resettlement. When we are resettling victims of genocide, calling it that will have a profound impact and a long-term effect, so we need to do that.
Part of what we are remembering today is those who did not stand by; those who stood up and took notice. The Minister knows about those individuals, families and communities all too well. They are very much part of his legacy and family history, and his motivation for the great work that he is doing is the heroes who did not stand by and who rallied individuals, families and communities. That led to refuge being found from the Nazis for thousands of individuals. That motivation must permeate all the way through what we are doing in our response.
I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister extended the relocation programme in September in response to cross-party calls, which had gone on for some time, to welcome more refugees. This is an issue of numbers—although politicians and the media can get stuck on that side of the issue, we do need to hold the Minister to account on the numbers, because of the pledge that was made. I welcome what Keith Vaz, the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, on which I am proud to serve, said about holding the Minister and the Government to account.
However, there is also the fundamental issue of human dignity. In many ways, I see the number of 20,000 as a minimum. We need to be ready to have that flexibility, and to respond to people’s vulnerability in this tragic situation. We need human dignity both in the assessment stage—the Minister is working hard to get the assessment right to ensure that the most vulnerable refugees can make their way into this country—and all the way down the line to when people are received into our constituencies.
Sadly, that contrasts with the reports that we examined yesterday of the painted doors that identified asylum seekers. We have no truck with that in the way that we do things—it is not the British way or the decent way. On the Home Affairs Committee yesterday, we were concerned that the company involved, G4S, said that it did not know about that because there had been no complaints from asylum seekers. That is not the right response. Such companies should respond properly and responsibly, as a matter of human dignity. They should not wait for some complaints process to be activated. We must ensure that we deal with the people seeking refuge with care and attention, based on human dignity, not on whether they are agitated.
I welcome the Government’s primary response of providing international aid of well over £1.1 billion. That is important, because it is tackling the issue as everyone in non-governmental organisations says we need to tackle it—at its root and by ensuring that we support the regions. The World Food Programme has made it clear that the lack of humanitarian assistance for Syrian refugees and the barriers to securing legal access to livelihoods—my right hon. Friend Mark Field picked up on that point—are directly linked to the increase in flow of those fleeing to Europe. We must focus on that.
I welcome the leadership of the Secretary of State for International Development and her conference, “Supporting Syria and the Region”, which will take place shortly. It is important to identify particularly vulnerable groups— women, children and young people—and ensure that other countries step up to the plate and provide aid. I am concerned that religious minorities are not included in the invitation list and are not recognised, and they are some of the most vulnerable groups. When we are looking at who is the most vulnerable—I understand that the resettlement and relocation programme is based on that—we should ensure that we do not ignore some of the most vulnerable groups.
The Select Committee on International Development, which is chaired by my predecessor in my constituency, Stephen Twigg, produced an excellent report. It identified, as NGOs have, that the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community, religious minorities and children are the most vulnerable and are discriminated against, whether in access to healthcare, in not being able to return to their country of origin, or particularly in not being able to go into camps.
Ninety per cent. of Syrian refugees are not from camps. As the Minister has said in response to questions from me and others, it is not just about having a programme of relocation from camps. Most of the most vulnerable refugees are outside the camps—indeed, the relocation programme includes relocating from outside camps. The problem is registration. Many people, particularly from religious communities—particularly Christians, it has to be said—will not go to the camps, because they fear double persecution there. They do not want to come out into the limelight. They seek refuge through churches and other communities and are dispersed. They are not being registered, and we need to recognise that they, among others, are the most vulnerable groups. We need to ensure that the relocation programme involves Christians as well.
We must also respond to the wider calls relating to unaccompanied minors. The Committee heard horrific statistics from an Italian parliamentarian yesterday—that 4,000 unaccompanied minors were lost in 2014, which has gone up to 6,000 now. They risk exploitation, and it is not just a Syrian issue. It involves young Eritreans who are being trafficked. We must tackle the issue well, given our leadership on modern slavery, and ensure that we do not stand by, whether as a Government, as parliamentarians or individually. I very much welcome us taking practical action through this debate.
I am grateful to Helen Whately for securing a debate that will no doubt be followed closely by the many individuals and organisations around the UK who hold a relevant interest in this subject. I am particularly grateful to the hon. Lady, because I believe the debate today is an important opportunity for all Members to reflect on the process of resettling the Syrian refugees who will now be calling the UK home.
I also welcome the chance to discuss some of the measures being undertaken in my constituency of Inverclyde, and I hope we are able to share examples of best practice from all our local areas. I am aware that in some instances, there is a wide variation in the approach being taken to resettlement and we can improve the process by resolving the problems that have been identified as the first group of Syrian refugees are welcomed into our communities.
I am pleased to put on record that due to the efforts of the Scottish Government and Inverclyde council the resettlement program in my constituency has been an overall success. Inverclyde council’s previous experience in participating in the Afghan resettlement scheme has been invaluable in taking forward the practicalities of the Syrian resettlement. In that programme, Afghans fleeing persecution, including former British Army interpreters, have found a new home in Inverclyde. One Afghan couple was so delighted that their most recent child had been born in Scotland that they insisted on giving it a Scottish name—it may be the first Scots-Afghan baby born in my constituency.
Inverclyde Council has made an initial commitment to support 10 Syrian families over the five-year life of the vulnerable persons relocation scheme. Periodic reviews of the process will help to determine whether the council can make a further commitment to take more.
The first two families arrived in November 2015, and a third family arrived shortly afterwards. On arriving in Scotland, they were met at the airport by council staff and transported to Inverclyde, where they temporarily stayed in a hotel, before moving to permanent accommodation. Housing was provided by locally registered social landlords, and the three families now live within walking distance of each other. In placing the families in accommodation, the local authority felt that it was best to cluster them together, but not to concentrate them too much. That allows them to live within a comfortable distance of each other, but it also ensures that they can integrate more effectively with their neighbours.
Inverclyde Council has assisted the families by helping them to establish bank accounts and by registering them with local GPs and dental practices. I am pleased to report that, throughout the entire settlement process, there have been no major incidents or problems, and the Syrian families continue to settle into their new community.
The hon. Gentleman is doing exactly what I had hoped: he is bringing up examples of how well things are working practically. He mentioned his council clustering people, but not putting them too close together, and that is exactly the kind of good practice I have heard about in other places. I thank him for bringing up that detail.
I thank the hon. Lady.
I am proud of the people of Inverclyde, who have shown such generosity in offering clothing, food, cash and their time to support their new neighbours.
Despite the warm welcome offered by local residents and the range of services available from Inverclyde Council, however, challenges remain for the incoming Syrian families. Most notably, refugees may experience difficulties in seeking work, because of language difficulties or because their professional qualifications are not recognised in the UK. Furthermore, if refugees have been victims of torture, we must ensure that local authorities continue to have the necessary physical and mental health support services to enable them to settle and thrive.
I would like to turn briefly to the issue of asylum seeker dispersal areas. The UK Government have asked local authorities in Scotland whether they would like to become dispersal areas for incoming asylum seekers.
That is pertinent to the debate, because many of those fleeing Syria will have to make a claim for asylum before possibly being granted refugee status in the UK. As one of the few local authorities with a declining population, Inverclyde would usually give serious consideration to becoming a dispersal area, because that would be an opportunity to bring a younger population into our community.
The UK Government are, however, making their request without a commitment to provide funding to cover the cost of the additional support services that would be required. A properly thought-out and fully funded package of funding would likely see a number of Scottish councils willing to become dispersal areas, but authorities will be reluctant to risk the success they have already achieved in resettling Syrian refugees by taking on the many challenges of becoming an asylum seeker dispersal area without the required funding support. I hope the UK Government will consider those concerns as they move ahead with plans to establish more asylum seeker dispersal areas in Scotland.
In closing, I reiterate my thanks to the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent for securing the debate. I hope we will continue this discussion outside the Chamber over the next five years. In doing so, we will ensure that the resettlement program continues to build on the successes we have already achieved.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate Helen Whately on securing the debate.
In April 1939, a 10-year-old Jewish refugee from a small industrial town called Ostrava in what was then Czechoslovakia was put on a train by his mum and teenage sisters. He was the only member of his family allowed to leave, and it was the last time he would see the other members of his family, because they were murdered in the holocaust. He grew up to become the youngest grammar school headmaster in the country, and he was honoured with an MBE for his charitable work and his services to education. He adopted four children, of whom I am the second. I therefore know all about how Britain has welcomed refugees and about the benefits that they have brought to our communities and our country.
In January 1939, Kurt Flossman, a 14-year-old German refugee arrived at Dudley’s grammar school. His father had died in 1937, and he travelled all the way across Europe on his own. Students at the school clubbed together to raise the £50 a year in fees and expenses that he needed to go to their school, and local firms sponsored his clothes. Stories such as that show how Dudley has always worked to welcome those in need and to build a tolerant community.
Over the years, Dudley has welcomed refugees from all sorts of conflicts all around the world, including from Vietnam in the 1960s, and, later, from Uganda and Kosovo. No one can say that we are not doing our bit now in Dudley and the black country; in, fact there are as many asylum seekers in the black country as there are in the south-west, the south-east and the east of England put together. Although people in Dudley are proud of Britain’s history of providing a safe haven for the victims of fascism and persecution, it cannot be right that Dudley supports nearly half as many asylum seekers as the entire south-east.
Refugees are overwhelmingly concentrated in poor communities in the north and the midlands. Birmingham and Liverpool provide a home for 1,400 asylum seekers each, while Rochdale, Manchester and Bolton have more than 900 apiece.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful case that draws on his own personal testimony. The problem with the resettlement programme thus far has been that it has involved a private sector contract with Serco, under which asylum seekers are flown into Manchester airport in my constituency, put up for a number of nights and then dispersed around the conurbation, going overwhelmingly to Bolton and Rochdale, in Greater Manchester, which has more asylum seekers than the whole of the south put together, and without any redress to any of the councils for the services that are affected. Does my hon. Friend agree that we must do better?
My hon. Friend is completely right. The central point I want to make today is that, when the Government embark on their new programme, they must learn from the mistakes they made in the past when housing people who came to this country to seek asylum.
My hon. Friend mentioned Bolton and Rochdale. There are also 850 asylum seekers in Leicester, 800 in Nottingham and 750 in Middlesbrough. Bradford, Derby, Leeds, Newcastle, Oldham, Stockton, Wigan and Coventry each have 500 or 600.
Meanwhile, much wealthier, much posher communities in the south have turned their backs on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. Local authorities represented by the Prime Minister, the Secretaries of State for Defence and for Communities and Local Government and seven other Cabinet Ministers have not opened their doors to a single asylum seeker. There are just 380 asylum seekers in all the seats covered by all the local authorities represented by all the Cabinet—fewer than in individual local authorities such as Sandwell or Wolverhampton. The local authorities of Swale and Maidstone, which are represented by the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent, who called the debate, have housed just three asylum seekers between them. Watford has housed 15. Camden has housed 21. Islington houses just 34, while Hackney houses only 38, and Oxford houses just 12.
Dudley has pledged to step up and to house Syrian refugees coming to this country, but if the 20,000 Syrian refugees are housed around the country in the same way as those who currently seek asylum are, the north-west will have almost 5,000 and the west midlands will have almost 3,000, while the south-east, the south-west and the east of England will house just 1,200 between them.
I would therefore like the Minister to recognise that the impact of our response to this crisis should be spread much more evenly across the country. The hon. Lady said her local authority had pledged to take six asylum seekers, but if every local authority across the country was prepared to share the work equally, they would each take about 50 or 60 over the next five years.
The way people have been dispersed and then concentrated in localised areas can put pressure on public services such as housing, schools and the NHS, which are already under great strain. That is also unfair on the refugees themselves, who are moved to communities without sufficient Government support and then left waiting for years for their applications to be processed. That is the result of what can only be described as a shambles in the Departments responsible.
In parts of the country such as London, these issues are balanced by the presence of wealthy migrants. It might come as a surprise to hon. Members taking part in the debate, however, to learn that we do not get many millionaire American bankers, German City traders or French hedge fund managers moving to areas such as the black country. Will the Minister therefore examine how the economic benefits that migration brings to some parts of Britain can be used to reduce the pressure elsewhere on schools, housing and other public services, and to improve local infrastructure and public services in places such as the black country? Could he also consider how unspent EU structural funds that the Government are not drawing down could be used in areas such as the black country that face the greatest pressures on public services, to employ the extra primary school teachers or GPs needed so that we can more easily accommodate people in need from around the world?
People in Dudley will rise to the challenge and play a full part in welcoming those fleeing persecution abroad, just as we have in the past; but it is about time people elsewhere did the same.
I congratulate Helen Whately on securing this important debate. It has been four months since I wrote to the Prime Minister, along with many others, to urge him to respond to the escalating refugee crisis affecting mainland Europe. When he and his Government finally woke up, their response was modest and insufficient. By committing themselves to resettling only 20,000 Syrian refugees—a far smaller number than the EU, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, many in Parliament, the Scottish Government and the country demanded—the Government may have damaged our humanitarian reputation overseas.
The Government have rigidly stuck by that decision, but whereas their response was lethargic, our communities responded rather differently. I am immensely proud that my constituents welcomed the refugees with open arms. People in Paisley and Renfrewshire collected donations, opened shops, travelled to Calais and did anything and everything in their power to help those in need. The first refugees arrived in my constituency in November, landing at Glasgow airport. It may have been an all-too-typical cold and wet night, but the response that our new friends received would have shown them the warmth of Scotland —and the UK. Our new Syrian friends are living in local authority areas throughout Scotland and well over 3,000 individuals have signed up to help them resettle, through the “Scotland Welcomes Refugees” website.
My local town of Paisley has helped to resettle 50 refugees, and it appears that they have met the traditional warm welcome that I would expect from
Paisley “buddies”. The
Sunday Herald asked one of the new families whether they were happy in Paisley. They responded:
“It feels like we never left our families back in Syria because of the warm welcome we received in Scotland. We are among our families again.”
It should be noted that a lot of work has been done to ensure the smooth resettlement of our new Syrian neighbours. My office is part of a working group in Renfrewshire, which came together to ensure that the refugees’ arrival, introduction to, and integration with, Renfrewshire was as smooth as possible. That all-party and cross-sector group is attended by religious leaders, council officers, elected members from all levels of government and other important local stakeholders, and we have all worked to make sure that our new Paisley “buddies” settle into the area as smoothly as possible.
Renfrewshire has been opening its doors, but in turn our Syrian neighbours have opened theirs. They have been sharing Syrian food and culture with local people. They have appreciated the beauty of Scotland and we too appreciate their humility and hope. Despite all they have suffered, which is more than any of us can imagine, they look ahead to a new life, making plans—
I was just flicking through the figures. It is fantastic to hear how well the Syrian refugees have been welcomed—absolutely brilliant, and I am delighted to hear it—but why has North Lanarkshire not housed a single section 95 asylum seeker over the past few years? The other local authority that the hon. Gentleman mentioned was Renfrewshire, which housed just two.
There was a person in my constituency wanting to be accommodated under section 95 in Enfield, but he was unable to do that. He was directed to be housed not in Enfield but in Cardiff, in an area where the Government have a programme of section 95 support. Therefore he is being provided with support in the community, and voluntarily, in Enfield. Perhaps that will throw the figures given by Ian Austin into sharp relief. There is a need to ensure that there is shared responsibility; but, unfortunately, authorities that want to open their doors as has been suggested may not be able to, because of the particular section 95 programme.
I am very grateful. I just want to point out that a number of people currently housed and seeking asylum in Dudley, from local authorities in north London, were sent there by those local authorities, which are paying for their care but prefer housing them in cheaper accommodation in the midlands to looking after them in north London. Perhaps Mr Burrowes should discuss that with the local authorities.
I think the hon. Gentleman has made his point. Obviously, that is not really the issue that is being debated today.
Overwhelmingly, the families who have come to Renfrewshire have met a warm response; however, there is still a small vocal section of the population who are not so welcoming. My local paper, the Paisley Daily Express, ran a story with the headline “Shame on You”, which highlighted, exposed and shamed locals who posted nasty and bigoted messages on social media. I salute my local paper for shooting down those bigots and racists, but the story is a reminder that there still exists a section of the population that we have not won over.
The Government have committed to resettling only 20,000 refugees, compared with Germany’s 800,000. That rather larger “bunch of migrants” is 4,000% more than the UK’s. The question we should now all be asking ourselves is “What’s next?” What do we do next to help those still caught up and affected by the crisis? First, we need to reassess whether accepting 20,000 Syrian refugees is the limit of our compassion, capability and capacity. I argued at the time that we should be doing more to help play our part in this crisis, and I support Citizens UK in its call for a target of 50,000 rather than 20,000. The families and children fleeing conflict never asked for war, and it is important that we do all that we can to help them. That is why I would echo the calls made by Melanie Ward of the International Rescue Committee, who said:
“It cannot be argued that accepting 4,000 Syrian refugees per year—or around six per parliamentary constituency—is our fair share of the millions who have fled Syria—this is more the case now than ever before”.
To house 50,000 refugees requires massive local government resources; yet the Scottish National party Government in Edinburgh is cutting Glasgow’s budget—it is the mainstay of asylum seeker reception in Scotland—by £130 million a year. How can the hon. Gentleman justify calling for 50,000 refugees while the council’s budget is being cut by that much?
Order. I think the debate has lost some of its direction, format and balance. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman might like to address himself to the topic we are debating.
I will gladly go back to the topic in hand—thanks very much.
As well as reassessing the 20,000 target, the UK Government have to look at the funding of local authorities that are housing refugee families. I have spoken with the leader of Renfrewshire Council, who has confirmed that, although there is an indication that there may be funding allocated for years 2 to 5, that, and the level of any future funding, are still to be confirmed. Will the Minister give Renfrewshire Council that guarantee and, if so, let it know to what level the funding will be allocated?
Let us debate this issue but let us also follow up our debate with meaningful action. We have a proud humanitarian tradition in this country. However, with the UK now taking more formal and direct military intervention in Syria, we have an onus and responsibility to take more Syrian families, who are now fleeing not only Daesh and Assad but bombs dropped from American, Saudi, French, Australian, Turkish, Jordanian and British bombers. As we are now very much one of the push factors involved in the mass migration, we owe it to those in flight to offer refuge for a lot more than 20,000.
I congratulate Helen Whately on bringing this matter forward for debate. It is an important issue that cannot be ignored. Everyone has an opinion on it and it is nearly impossible to avoid it. The migrant crisis was one of the defining issues of 2015, because it affected everyone. Whether it is the negative consequences in Cologne or the success stories of relocated refugees settling into their new society, it is a major issue that will take some time to resolve. At the extremes in the UK are those who say we can take no more, and those who say, “Open the door wide.” Somewhere in between we must get a balance, and I think, in fairness, the Government have grasped that to an extent.
More than 13.5 million Syrians need help, of whom 6.5 million are internally displaced, and 4.2 million Syrians have fled abroad, mostly to neighbouring countries in the region. Mr Burrowes spoke of the plight of persecuted Christians, and 600,000 Christians have been displaced in Syria. They went all over the place. Many were given the ultimatum: convert or die. To continue to practise their religious beliefs, they had to leave. We cannot ignore those issues.
Many of those who fled were traumatised, as well, so it is about not just finding a new home but living with the horrors that they have experienced. The Minister has done extremely well, and the Prime Minister has given his commitment. The Government clearly have an objective of addressing the issues, and British DFID funding is very effective.
Syrian nationals were only the fourth largest group of asylum applicants in the year ending September 2015. We need to be careful about the migrant crisis, because it is clear that some illegal immigrants set on purely economic migration are capitalising on the plight of Syrian refugees. Figures from the UNHCR show that about 60% of migrants arriving in the bloc countries are now economic migrants. Slightly more than 10% of Syrians who have fled the conflict have sought protection in Europe, and some 681,700 asylum applications were made between April 2011 and October 2015. I am not a pro-European—you will know that, Mr Gray, as will other hon. Members—but the European Commission has given each resettled Syrian refugee some €6,000, and money can be drawn down. In reality, that figures that we have are only the tip of the iceberg, and thousands more people are making their way through Europe undocumented.
Regardless of the approach we take, we need to ensure that refugees are processed correctly to give genuine refugees the dignity they deserve and to root out potential criminal elements or security threats, which have clearly happened. Northern Ireland has offered free English lessons, a move that is sure to help vulnerable people to settle and to integrate into their host society. Some 1,000 refugees crossed to Northern Ireland just last year. Those lessons will make life easier for everyone by helping refugees to integrate and offsetting any social or cultural tensions that may arise. They will cost some £20,000 a year and will be a long-term investment, ensuring translation services and covering other expenses associated with providing services to those who cannot speak English, to help integration into Ulster and Northern Irish society. Those who want to learn Ulster Scots can do so, but it is most important that they learn English. Some may want to learn Irish also. The lessons will apply only to refugees and not to economic migrants, a move that will ensure that only those in real need will benefit from lessons at a cost to the public purse. Illegal economic migrants cannot take advantage of the generosity being offered to refugees.
Many churches and charities have been involved, as hon. Members have said. Whenever there is a crisis, people come together and those who can help do help. Churches in Northern Ireland have risen to the challenge, as have charities.
Sweden and other countries have provided social instruction classes, particularly on how to treat women, because it is important to address such issues. Those classes have been successful in helping to educate refugees about how to behave appropriately in western society. We could learn from that innovative approach, which would go some way to improving integration and ensuring we do not have another Cologne.
We have all seen the distressing images of people drowning while desperately trying to cross the Mediterranean. One would have a heart of stone not to have been moved by some of things we have seen. However, the European Commission’s chief spokesman has admitted that the majority of people moving across Europe are in fact economic migrants. We need to ensure that only those in genuine need can avail themselves of services such as the English lessons in Northern Ireland, and that we discourage those who are not in such desperate need from making the perilous and often fatal journey to Europe.
We must address the migration issue in Syria—we cannot address it only here. We are reactive, but we need to be proactive in Syria. The issue will not go away, and as we start to welcome more and more refugees into the United Kingdom the innovative approaches in Northern Ireland that I have mentioned should be shared and discussed in Scotland and across the United Kingdom’s political institutions, to ensure that the resettling and integration of refugees is as efficient and smooth as possible.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Obviously he has a particular point of view, and an important one, but when we need a global strategy, we must sometimes do deals with people we do not want to do deals with. We have to look at how best we can come together as a world—NATO, Europe as a whole and the countries bordering Syria—to ensure that some sort of stability is returned to it. If that happens, people can go home again, and I think that is where they really want to be.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I thank Helen Whately for bringing this extremely important and timeous debate to the House. It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak in it as a member of the Select Committee on International Development, having been involved in the recent inquiry into the Syrian refugee crisis.
Feedback from Scotland, including from local authorities, is positive—400 refugees of the initial 1,000 have been settled in Scotland. There is still a long way to go, but we are certainly making excellent progress in that regard. I understand that Ministers are visiting refugees around Scotland as we speak. More work is needed to ensure that refugees do not feel isolated and that we have English classes that are appropriate and sufficient for their needs.
It is important that refugees’ needs are matched to local areas and that over the longer term, they can utilise any skills, qualifications and experience they may have. As the hon. Lady said, that process should be expedited and any healthcare and psychological support that may be required to help their adaptation should be provided.
Following on from the International Development Committee’s report, I echo the comment of Mr Burrowes that it is extremely important to ensure that the most vulnerable individuals are assessed and registered by UNHCR. They are not all able to reach camps, particularly those with disabilities or learning difficulties, those in rural areas, Christians and minority groups. Will the Minister ensure that data are disaggregated so that we can ensure that vulnerable groups across the board are fully included in the resettlement process?
I commend DFID and the Minister for their work on resettlement and in the camps. It is important to ensure, as DFID has tried to do, that children have access to education, safety and child protection, and that refugees have the opportunity to work. That is a task in progress.
However, humanitarian crisis funding is not sufficient for long-term planning, particularly when crises are protracted over many years. We must look at funding issues and ensure that needs are met in the long term. Will the Minister ensure in discussions with Turkey and other partners that stipulations on the provision of assistance are met, so that refugees have access to education, healthcare and employment, and that a scrutiny process is enacted and long-term outcome data are collected?
Reports by Save the Children estimate that 26,000 child refugees arrived in Europe without any family in 2015. Children on their own are extremely vulnerable, and figures reported by Italy indicate that of the 13,000 unaccompanied children who arrived through its borders in 2014, almost 4,000 have subsequently disappeared, with concerns that they may have fallen victim to people trafficking. A study from Belgium in 2008 revealed that unaccompanied refugee children and adolescents are five time more likely than accompanied refugee minors to demonstrate severe or very severe symptoms of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. That obviously has implications for their vulnerability and resettlement.
Save the Children has led calls for 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees in Europe to be resettled in the UK, in addition to the 20,000 already accepted. That amounts to five children per parliamentary constituency. In September 2015, the Prime Minister indicated that the Government will continue to discuss the proposal, but no decision has yet been made. I reiterate that unaccompanied child refugees are a particularly vulnerable group and need urgent help.
The recommendation of the International Development Committee was resettlement in the UK of 3,000 unaccompanied children, and that proposal is supported by the Scottish Government. However, that is the tip of the iceberg in Europe. I request that the Minister collaborate and speak with European partners to ensure that unaccompanied children are registered, that child protection issues are engaged with extremely quickly, that childcare workers and staff are employed and that children do not continue to go missing within Europe.
I thank the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent again. She spoke extensively and eloquently about the efforts that her local authority has made and about the emotional and practical requirements of refugees when they are resettled and local arrangements are made. She described her own profound experience of visiting refugee camps and the impact that has had on her understanding.
Keith Vaz discussed the importance of delivering on the pledge, raised important issues in relation to the EU and the wider context, and said that it is vital to address the political situation in Syria. Of course, we would all agree about that.
The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate discussed the issues of human dignity and vulnerability and reiterated points about minority groups, which I emphasise. My hon. Friend Ronnie Cowan spoke about local best practice initiatives and shared learning on resettlement in his area. Ian Austin spoke eloquently about his own historical family situation and about the need for councils across the UK to engage equally in the process. That should also be addressed.
Thank you, Mr Gray.
My hon. Friend Gavin Newlands discussed what we gain from having refugees in the country. We should be proud of what we are doing, but we should continually ask what more we can do.
Order. I say to Jim Shannon that it is a normal courtesy for those who have taken part in the debate to remain present throughout the winding-up speeches. It is not considered courteous to leave the debate during the winding-up speeches, but if any hon. Member does so, he will find that he is not called in subsequent debates. [Interruption.] Order. The hon. Gentleman will resume his seat. [Interruption.] Order.
A number of hon. Members have asked specific questions of the Minister. Therefore, I will be brief so that he gets the chance to give answers to the questions that people want answered.
I, too, congratulate Helen Whately, not only on securing the debate but on the tone and content of her contribution at the start. I, too, have been to the camp in Calais. I went just three weeks ago. I went to Calais and to Dunkirk, and the conditions there are truly appalling. That is the case particularly at Dunkirk, which—for those hon. Members who have not been—is basically a forest in which there is a swamp. On the ground is mud, water, urine and everything else that one would expect to find mixed in when there are no toilets or running water. In the middle of that, on any piece of semi-firm soil, are pitched flimsy tents. I do not think that anybody could go in any capacity to those camps and not come back a changed person.
Of course, the camps include Syrians among other nationalities. That is not surprising. The figures have already been given. More than half of the pre-war population of Syria are in need of help—13.5 million of 22 million—6.6 million people are internally displaced and 4.3 million have fled abroad, so there are Syrians in Dunkirk, Calais and many other places across Europe. I saw there—in Dunkirk in particular—in the flimsy tents, settling down for the night, at 4.30 because there is no electricity and no lights and it was getting dark, children the same age as my own. I met individuals such as the Iraqi Kurd who showed me around. He explained that he had fled with his family because he was given an ultimatum by ISIS as it was coming into his town to join it or die. He ran for his life with such of his family as he could and is now in Dunkirk.
I acknowledge everything that the Minister has done in his brief so far. He will know just how important language is. I ask him, for that Iraqi Kurd and the others in the camps, whether he will distance himself from what I thought were disappointing comments from the Prime Minister this morning when he described people in those camps as “a bunch of migrants”. Some of the people in the camps will have been deeply disappointed and hurt to have been described in that way, because they hold our politicians—our leaders—in very high esteem.
May I touch on a couple of issues of process? In those camps and others across Europe, among the Syrians who have fled are individuals who are undoubtedly entitled, under the Dublin III arrangements, to be reunited with their families already in the UK, yet on the ground it is clear that that process is not working; it is not working in Calais or Dunkirk. I ask the Minister whether it is possible to have an urgent review of the Dublin III arrangements—the practical operation on the ground.
The voluntary resettlement programme was started, I think, in January 2014 and extended in September 2015 to the 20,000 Syrian refugees. That is welcome. On all sides, we should always say that it is welcome that that initiative has been taken by the Government; and the Government are right to ensure and insist that there are proper arrangements for those arriving, so that they can be housed, they have proper welfare, they have proper support and they have education. Given the various contributions made today, it may be time to review quite how and where people are located, but it is a very welcome initiative.
It was perhaps wrong to fix a cap in 2015 when we do not know what will happen during the next five years. I hope that the number can be revisited, because all the predictions are for a greater number of refugees next year even though we have already had a record year. We may need to come back to the 20,000 figure to see whether it needs to be revised.
I do ask the Minister and the Government—I have done so on a number of occasions—to give serious consideration to the question of unaccompanied children. There are 26,000 across Europe; 3,000 have been specifically identified by Save the Children and others. These are children on their own in Europe. Some may well have the right to be reunited with people in this country. It is probably unlikely to be their mother and father, but could be more distant family. This is Holocaust Memorial Day—a very important day when we consider children on their own in Europe. I ask the Government to look very seriously at the now very powerful case for taking some among that number of unaccompanied children.
I will turn now to two issues raised by other Members. When asylum seekers arrive in this country, whether from Syria or elsewhere, it is important that they are treated with dignity and respect. We have had, for the second week running, examples of treatment that has not been thought through and is deeply offensive to anybody with any experience of working with and for refugees. The red doors policy in Middlesbrough was raised in the House last week, and it was the wristbands in Cardiff this week. We need to appreciate several important points in those cases. Both examples have come to the attention of the House and been debated only because of the work of journalists. As I understand it, a Home Office inspection regime looks at the arrangements for asylum seekers to ensure the quality and so on of the accommodation and support that they are given. I called last week, and I call again now, for an urgent review of the arrangements to ensure that those sorts of crass arrangements are weeded out as fast as possible and to ensure that they were confined to Middlesbrough and Cardiff—in other words, to check that similar practices in other parts of the country will not come to the attention of the House in future weeks. Such a review is much needed.
I return to where I started. The steps that have been taken so far are welcome and should be supported on all sides, but it is time for the Government to look at whether we can go further in a number of material respects.
As always, it is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I thank my hon. Friend Helen Whately for securing the debate and for her contribution. The Opposition, in all their forms—Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition, the Scottish National party and everyone else—have been very helpful in everything that the Government have done on the Syrian resettlement programme. That does not mean that the Opposition have not been critical, but I think we all realise that we all have exactly the same intention.
However, ladies and gentlemen of the jury—if this were a jury, as in the former profession of Keir Starmer —I am a little bit off my normal form, owing to the shock of being complimented by the Chair of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, Keith Vaz. That stopped me concentrating for a moment.
I thank my hon. Friend for her comments. If I could receive such comments during the rest of my political career, I would be fortunate. We have very little time. With permission, I will attempt to answer most of the questions that have been asked, but if by chance I miss anything, I would be happy to discuss it privately with any Member of this House. Quite a few of the questions were grouped together, so I will try to summarise them.
There has been a bit of a misunderstanding about local authorities and the criteria for deciding where refugees should be settled. I have a lot of respect for Ian Austin—we are both very interested in holocaust affairs and are involved in the Holocaust Educational Trust, of which I am a trustee—and we agree on most things. However, the list of people settled under the asylum programme is fundamentally different from the system that is used in the resettlement programme, and that is the reason for the confusion between him and my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent. Local authorities have come forward to help in many areas, such as Ashford in Kent. I pay tribute to the leader of Ashford Borough Council, who passed around a video to other local authorities saying how welcome refugees are in Ashford. The council has resettled quite a lot of families.
I am sorry, but I really do not have time, because we have only got five minutes and I have got loads of things to say. Participation in the resettlement scheme is voluntary for local authorities. I would like to cover the finance point, because one of the very good contributions from the Scottish Members had a slight mistake in it. It is not just year 1 funding that has been arranged; there is a full programme for years 2 to 5. I am happy to go into detail in writing or to talk to hon. Members about it. Suffice it to say, within the time available, that most local authority leaders are quite satisfied with the funding, because years 2 to 5 are provided for.
As far as local authorities are concerned, the Government are conscious of the fact that settlement requires more than housing. That housing is provided predominantly by private landlords and paid for through local authorities, but with Government funds, deliberately so as not to interfere with the housing stock in those areas. In addition, each area is responsible for programmes to welcome people, introduce them to the local community and ensure that they register with doctors, schools and so on. I mention that because one of the faults of previous such programmes was that people were housed but forgotten about, and we are determined that that will not happen. Those are valid points to raise.
The Chair of the Home Affairs Committee made many erudite points, one of which was to ask what the Government were going to do about all the offers of spare rooms and shelter. He mentioned the Archbishop of Canterbury, whom I was with this morning—
Indeed, and your name was mentioned—not your name, Mr Gray, but the right hon. Gentleman’s. I apologise for not mentioning your name to the Archbishop, Mr Gray; I know that you know him very well.
On a serious point, we cannot take up the kind offers of spare rooms in people’s houses because we are not interested in providing temporary accommodation to refugees. Our programme is intended to settle people where they will live, if not permanently, for the foreseeable future. However, that does not mean that we are not using all those offers of help. I discussed the matter this morning with the Archbishop. He is, by the way, in touch with Lambeth Council, and I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Leicester East has such a low opinion of Labour councils and their housing departments that he thinks that he would not be treated properly.
Putting that to one side for the moment, we are considering lots of other things through community sponsorship so that those kind offers can be used. One example is mentoring people into jobs, which is being trialled in a scheme in Bradford at the moment. Another is twinning families with other families, who can help by taking them to job interviews and English language lessons, which we are encouraging. We are doing lots of community sponsorship things—I would be happy to go into them on another occasion, but I am conscious of the time—so the good will of those people is absolutely not being turned away.
I will leave the right hon. Gentleman’s running commentary points for the moment, because there may be another occasion to discuss that. He said that it was very important that we include the diaspora of Syrians who already live here. I met all the groups during my first few weeks in office and I asked them to form one umbrella organisation, which they have done. I met some of them yesterday, and I will meet more of them tomorrow, to make sure that they are used in all the areas where they have people. A slight problem is that they are concentrated in certain areas and not present in many areas where refugees are going, but they are being very co-operative.
The point about religious minorities is particularly important, because there has been a general belief that our system of taking people from the UNHCR, using the vulnerability criteria, is all well and good, but that some people—particularly Christians, but also other minorities—have been left out. I am determined that that will not happen. There is one rule on which I think the Government have every right to be inflexible, and that is that people have to register with the UNHCR, because it is the only way in which we can work out the vulnerability points, such as health and all the other things that we deal with. However, I have asked the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Catholic Bishop Patrick Lynch, whom I met last week, and every other body that we work with to give us evidence of places where there are pockets of people who are not registered. The Department for International Development is funding the UNHCR to provide outreach staff to register those people. I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend Mr Burrowes that on meeting a Catholic bishop who came back from Jordan last week, I was told for the first time that there are green shoots, with more evidence of Christians registering. I want to make it clear that the Government have no policy of discriminating against Christians or anybody else, because what we are interested in is vulnerability.
As far as the contributions from Scottish Members are concerned—I am sorry to group them together, but there is not time to go through their individual contributions—I pay tribute to the way in which the Scottish Government, the Scottish local authorities and the Home Office have worked together. It is a very good model for democracy, because no one cares about who is in which party or about trying to score points off each other, and the end product has been extremely good. I cannot stress that enough, and I can say that because I have experienced it myself.
This is a very complex issue. A lot of people have mentioned the 3,000 children, and have said that 20,000 refugees is not enough. It is certainly true that hundreds of thousands could be picked out. I would like to stress two points in my remaining time. First, hon. and right hon. Members must remember that the 20,000 is a small part of our overall humanitarian policy. Most of our work is in the countries adjoining Syria, such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, and I think that this country can be proud of that work. One Member mentioned Germany. Germany has a lot of migrants, but compared with Germany, we do a lot of work on the ground on matters such as accommodation and health. It works both ways. There has been a lot of talk about the children, and all I can say in the few seconds I have left is that the Prime Minister is considering the situation, and I believe we can expect an announcement shortly. I am sorry that I cannot give any more information than that, but the points have been very well made.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the resettlement of Syrian refugees.