Syrian Refugees: Resettlement — [Mr James Gray in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:01 pm on 27th January 2016.

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Photo of David Burrowes David Burrowes Conservative, Enfield, Southgate 3:01 pm, 27th January 2016

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.