Refugees: UK Government Policy

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:16 pm on 10th February 2016.

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Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control) 5:16 pm, 10th February 2016

It is a pleasure to serve under your stewardship, Mrs Main, and to follow my hon. Friend Natalie McGarry. I congratulate my hon. Friend Richard Arkless on securing the debate.

I start on a positive note by paying tribute to the Minister for his work in resettling 1,000 vulnerable Syrian refugees. These things never operate completely perfectly but, on the whole, the resettlement scheme appears to have got off to a positive start and I thank him for his contribution to making that happen. More broadly, we should recognise that, compared with many countries, the position of refugees and asylum seekers in the UK is positive. However, the role of the Opposition is to point out what the Government could do better, and there is a lot that the Government could do better in their treatment of asylum seekers and refugees. I could probably speak all day on this subject so please do not treat this short shopping list as a comprehensive one. In the time I have, I will try to make three or four short points.

This morning we had an excellent debate on asylum accommodation and the COMPASS housing contracts. We heard about the red doors in Middlesbrough and the red wrist bands in Cardiff. More broadly, we heard of myriad complaints about poor accommodation standards and services in various parts of the UK. Many hon. Members argued that, before the Government consider renewing the contracts, there must be a thorough independent review of the operation.

This afternoon, we had a robust debate on migration into Europe and our approach to the refugee crisis. In my short speech I made the case for UK participation in the relocation of refugees around the EU. More than 1 million people fled to Europe by sea last year—about 800,000 to Greece and 150,000 to Italy. Some 84% of those people were from refugee-producing countries. Almost half were from Syria, 21% were from Afghanistan and 9% were from Iraq. On any view, hundreds of thousands of refugees are among those arrivals. Many more—probably a greater number—will be coming this year and the year after.

No two countries can possibly cope with the task of receiving, registering, checking, supporting and processing claims for the refugee status of thousands of people every day, and no two countries can reasonably be expected to absorb the hundreds of thousands of refugees that are among their number. Nor, indeed, can they take on the task of removing all those who require to be removed. Yet, in essence, the approach of this Government appears to be that Greece and Italy should have to serve as home for all several million refugees.