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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:34 pm on 27th January 2016.

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Photo of Lisa Cameron Lisa Cameron Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Climate Justice) 3:34 pm, 27th January 2016

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.