Migration into the EU — [Andrew Rosindell in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:50 pm on 10th February 2016.

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Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Justice and Home Affairs) 2:50 pm, 10th February 2016

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Mr Rosindell.

Contrary to what Mr Holloway has just said, we are facing a refugee crisis in Europe, not a crisis involving economic migrants. I will particularly address the plight of women and child refugees. The First Minister of Scotland has said that we should be in no doubt that what we are witnessing is a humanitarian crisis on a scale not seen in Europe since the second world war. Most of the people travelling through Turkey, Greece and the Balkans to try to get to western Europe are doing so because they are desperate.

The images of their suffering will continue to haunt our consciences, and the reputation of this union of nations, for many generations to come if we do not do more collectively to help them.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about public opinion. In so far as I can judge public opinion in my constituency of Edinburgh South West, the vast majority of emails that I have received—many hundreds have come in batches and waves since September—have been asking this Parliament to encourage the Government to do more for the refugees in Europe, as opposed to doing nothing or less.

I recognise that the UK Government are making a substantial contribution to humanitarian initiatives on the ground in some of the countries that refugees are coming from, and I recognise the significant financial contributions that have been made to aid. I also recognise the United Kingdom’s commitment to take 20,000 vulnerable refugees over the next five years, but I regret to say that I do not believe those initiatives are enough. We, as a union of nations, are required to do more, and we are required to encourage the European Union to have a better co-ordinated response. We also need greater international effort through the United Nations.

I often hear what the hon. Gentleman said about the moral argument—that if we encourage people to come, we are simply throwing them into the arms of people smugglers and encouraging them to take their life in their hands. If one looks at the situation in the round, these refugees have not been met with a particularly welcoming attitude in Europe—certainly our union of nations has not been welcoming to them—yet they are continuing to come, so I feel that that moral argument falls down somewhat.

The majority of these people are refugees, not economic migrants. They are, of course, seeking a better life, but their main reason for doing that and leaving their countries is that those countries have been destroyed or deeply compromised by conflict. It is particularly inappropriate for the United Kingdom to wash its hands of taking any of the people who are now in Europe given that we have joined in with those conflicts. Whatever the rights and wrongs of that, and there were respectable arguments on both sides, as a Parliament we took the view that we would join those conflicts and interfere in other countries’ civil wars by dropping bombs, which is all the more reason for not washing our hands of responsibility for some of the refugees who are coming to Europe.

I strongly believe that the United Kingdom should take a fair and proportionate share of the refugees who are now in Europe. How we go about doing that, and how we address the situation, is complex, but it is fundamentally morally wrong—I use the word “morally” advisedly on Ash Wednesday—for us to say that we will do nothing for these people who are so desperate. I recognise that we are helping them in their own countries and on the ground, but people are coming to Europe in droves. We see their suffering on the news every night, and it is wrong for a relatively wealthy union of nations such as ours to do nothing about it.