Refugees: UK Government Policy

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:05 pm on 10th February 2016.

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Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Education), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Health), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Shadow PC Spokesperson (Energy & Natural Resources), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Local Government), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice) 5:05 pm, 10th February 2016

Diolch yn fawr, Mrs Main. I will do my best to keep to the time limit. I am grateful to Richard Arkless for securing the debate.

It is safe to say that the geopolitics of human suffering that is bringing tide upon tide of desperate refugees to Europe is the greatest ethical and moral challenge of our time. Plaid Cymru has constantly and consistently called on the UK Government to recognise the enormity of the crisis and to respond appropriately. We have also joined charities such as Oxfam and the Welsh Refugee Council in urging that the nations of the United Kingdom take our fair share of refugees. However, the number of people reaching Wales remains small. It is a distressing fact that more people lost their lives in the Mediterranean last year than found refuge in Wales.

Wales has a proud history of offering sanctuary to refugees, but we need to do more, and doing more means that there is a complex jigsaw of authorities, responsibilities and budgets to negotiate, against a background of austerity. The UK Government, the Welsh Government, Welsh local authorities and Welsh charities need to pull together to ensure that refugees are welcomed in Wales, that they have the means to settle and thrive and that their host communities are sufficiently resourced. There are concerns that the funding allocated to individuals for health services may not be sufficient in specific cases. I have spoken to my own local authority, Cyngor Gwynedd, about that.

Both the Home Office and a given local authority might feel that individuals with certain health conditions—perhaps disabled people—should warrant humanitarian priority. I ask the Minister to consider special categories of health needs and to ensure that local authorities can afford to provide proper care. Councils and communities should not be placed in a situation of picking and choosing who to accept from the camps not on the grounds of need but on the grounds of affordability. It is to be feared that the result of that, as matters stand, will be leaving sick and disabled people in the camps, which must be the least suitable place imaginable.

With specific reference to Wales, I would also like to address concerns about asylum accommodation. The recent exposure of systematic failings by Clearsprings in Cardiff warrants an urgent inquiry. It is clear, following yesterday’s evidence session of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, that Clearpsrings was aware of the practice of using red wristbands and decided not to challenge that practice. I propose that that indicates an unjustifiable level of insensitivity to refugees’ experience that calls for an inquiry.

I would like to take this opportunity also to raise the plight of ethnic groups suffering at the hands of Daesh in countries beyond the boundaries of Syria. The media news cycle is fickle. What pulls at our heartstrings one week is next week’s recycling fodder. Two years ago, the fate of the Yazidi community was headline news when Daesh besieged thousands of Yazidis on Mount Sinjar in Iraq between August and December 2014. Daesh’s cynical demand of “Convert or die” amounted to nothing less than a veil to conceal genocide. Members of the Yazidi diaspora talk about 35 mass graves containing 6,000 dead. The Yazidis are a community of 500,000 people who have suffered extreme religious persecution. They have been displaced from their homelands in Sinjar, the Nineveh plain and Syria, where they have lived for 3,000 years. The Yazidis, as I am sure many people are aware, are not a Muslim people, and they have been treated with particular harshness because of that.

Yazidi women have been, and remain, the victims of systematic sexual violence at the hands of Daesh fighters. They are especially vulnerable to enslavement and forced sexual abuse because of their ethnicity and religion. This week, I had the honour of meeting a young Yazidi woman, Nadia Murad, and learning something about her experiences. I was horrified to learn that some 3,400 Yazidi women and girls—children among them—are still held captive by Daesh.

My request is that the degree of our concern is not dictated by the latest media story, and that the quality of people’s suffering is not defined by the immediate horror of today’s news bulletin. Along with many hon. Members, I urge the Government to take our fair share of refugees from Syria and beyond, and to ensure that we provide proper care for them here in the UK. I beg the Government to remember the other ethnic groups caught up in the maelstrom, in the name of religion, in the middle east.