[Mr David Crausby in the Chair] — UNHCR: Admission Pathways for Syrian Refugees

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:49 am on 16th March 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) 9:49 am, 16th March 2016

Diolch yn fawr iawn Mr Cadeirydd; it is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Crausby. I thank Caroline Lucas for securing this timely debate, given, of course, that the meeting she referred to is due to be held at the end of this month. I will speak briefly, because a number of people want to contribute to the debate.

As I am sure everyone in the Chamber would agree, the increasing number of refugees and migrants requires a global and high-level response. This is the most serious challenge of our time—it is a moral, practical and political challenge. It is deceptively simple in debate but it is immense in its implications for those millions of people who have been cast adrift.

First, I will mark my respect for Cefnogi Ffoaduriaid Meirionnydd Dwyfor, or Refugee Solidarity, which has urged me to draw attention to the situation whereby refugees with family members in the UK—that is, people who would be accepted on this side of the channel—are in no way enabled to travel from Calais. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion described many such incidents, which is the reality of many migrants’ experience. As I say, these are people who would be accepted if they were to arrive in these islands.

There is a grim irony in people having to take such risks to arrive in a country where asylum will be granted to them, but only if they run a dangerous gauntlet before arrival. The channel may be a convenient barrier, but it cannot be acceptable to condone quietly the risks associated with an illegitimate sea crossing by boat, container or tunnel as a matter of policy. We are fortunate to be an island, but that does not absolve us of moral responsibilities.

Secondly, I take this opportunity to draw attention to the ongoing plight of the Yazidi community in Syria. The world noticed them—briefly—two years ago, when Daesh attacked the region and city of Shingal. Over 60,000 Yazidis were stranded in a state of siege on the mountains as they attempted to flee. They had been given the option by Daesh of converting to Islam or the men would be killed and the women sold as chattel—as sex slaves. The Yazidis’ status as a minority is particularly vulnerable as they are not Muslims and in Daesh’s world view it is not considered rape to force Yazidi women to have sex.

In total, 35 mass graves have been identified in the Shingal region. It is believed that 3,100 Yazidis, mostly women and children, were kidnapped by Daesh in 2014. Some of those women will not return because they have been sold on again, sometimes to Saudi Arabia, or have borne children with Daesh fathers, but it is estimated that 2,000 could be rescued relatively easily by means of being “bought back”. I understand that the average cost of buying a woman her freedom is around $7,000.

Yazidi survivors such as Salwa Khalaf Rasho have recently travelled to London to tell their stories. Many of them have come from Germany, where the state of Baden-Württemberg is providing a two-year programme of therapy for the survivors of Daesh kidnapping and abuse. The community is seeking international support for redress to the atrocity—it verges on genocide— that they suffered in August 2014 and in the years since. Yazidi leaders and supporters have come to Britain with a list of 11 recommendations, which warrant an international response.

I understand that the 2012 recommendations by the United Nations High Commissioner included the need to do more to protect refugee and migrant women, and that members of the Council of Europe should sign and adopt its convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. I further note that the convention has been signed but not ratified by the UK.

Of course, I support the calls that the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion has made to the Government and I take this opportunity to request that the Under-Secretary of State for Refugees agrees to meet Salwa Khalaf Rasho to hear her story. Individual voices, particularly women’s voices, are drowned out in the cacophony of war. I urge him to play a part by at least listening to her experience.