Forced Displacement in Africa — [Mr Nigel Evans in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 1:30 pm on 4th July 2019.

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Photo of Stephen Twigg Stephen Twigg Chair, International Development Committee 1:30 pm, 4th July 2019

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the Tenth Report of the International Development Committee, Forced displacement in Africa: Anchors not walls, HC 1433, and the Government response, HC 2357.

As ever, Mr Evans, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, not least because you serve as a distinguished member of the Select Committee on International Development. In February of this year we released our report on forced displacement, and last month the Government published their response. A year ago we invited submissions on all aspects of this broad issue, and I am grateful to everyone who gave evidence to our inquiry, both in person and in writing. I thank all members of the Select Committee for their participation.

As part of our inquiry, we visited Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia to look at first hand at the UK’s support for Governments, UN agencies and non-governmental organisations that are providing shelter and services for those forcibly displaced in east Africa. We were extremely grateful for the assistance, engagement and openness that, as ever, we encountered on that visit. We are also hugely grateful for the hard work of staff from the Department for International Development and the Foreign Office in making the visit a success, and for the broad range of interlocutors from the Governments in the three countries, the United Nations, various multilateral organisations, and of course civil society. In the context of today’s debate, I particularly thank the refugees and host community members who we met as part of those visits for their courage in sharing their stories and experiences with us.

Globally, we are in the midst of the greatest displacement crisis on record. Last month, on World Refugee Day, the latest data was published, showing that 70.8 million people around the world are displaced from their homes—more than the entire population of the United Kingdom. It is an increase of more than 2 million on the previous year, and to compare it with 10 years ago, the figure in 2009 was 43.3 million. Most of the people who are displaced remain within their own country—internally displaced persons, in the jargon. A further 29.5 million are refugees or asylum seekers—in other words, they have crossed an international border. However, we say that regardless of whether those displaced people are still in their own country or have crossed a border, they are among the most vulnerable anywhere in our world, and most at risk of being left behind as the world strives to achieve the sustainable development goals.

More than 20 million of those displaced people live in sub-Saharan Africa; by definition, in some of the poorest countries in the world. Seven of the top 10 countries of origin for refugees and three of the top 10 countries for hosting refugees are in sub-Saharan Africa, yet the African refugee crisis rarely makes the headlines, even compared with other refugee crises in recent years. We were impressed by the generosity that we saw during our visit to east Africa. Uganda, Ethiopia and Sudan each host around 1 million refugees and asylum seekers, but we know that generosity alone is not enough. The African Union has declared this year to be the year of refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons.

Last December, the United Nations—including the United Kingdom—signed up to a new global compact for refugees, the aim of which is to improve support and share responsibility for hosting displaced people more equitably between the wealthier and poorer countries of the world. That global compact recognises that a number of countries are responsible for hosting most refugees, and that often the countries shouldering the greatest burden are those least able to afford to do so. That is certainly the case in sub-Saharan Africa.

The refugee compact is ambitious and has the potential to make a life-changing difference to millions of refugees around the world. That will require a global effort, which needs to include robust accountability and indicators of progress to ensure that those commitments are translated into practice. As a Committee, we plan to hold the Government to account for the promises they have made, but we also recognise that the UK has an important part to play in pushing for robust accountability at an international level.

Funding, sadly, is woefully insufficient. The recommendations in our report simply cannot be achieved without plugging the gaps in funding to support displaced people. Based on evidence, we identified that the begging-bowl approach to raising international funds—crisis by crisis, annually or every other year—needs to be overhauled in line with the commitments made as part of the refugee compact, recognising that countries hosting refugees are providing a public good.

We also raised concerns that any new mechanism should not encourage low or middle-income host countries to take on yet more debt. Schemes such as the World Bank’s IDA18 regional sub-window for refugees and host communities are getting money through to the countries that need it, which is welcome. However, much of that funding comes in the form of loans, rather than grants. In the context of increasing anxiety about a new African debt crisis, we question the appropriateness of an approach that makes those countries borrow to support refugees. We urge DFID to look again at how it can work with multilateral organisations such as the World Bank to reduce the financial burden that loans undoubtedly place on refugee-hosting countries.

Throughout our inquiry we sought to establish how far DFID is supporting people who have been forcibly displaced, which has not always been a straightforward task. Scrutiny of the Department’s expenditure in that area is challenging because of the way the data is held and published. It has left us unable, for example, to determine the split in spending between support for refugees on one hand, and for IDPs on the other. In the Government’s response, the Department says that its focus is

“on vulnerability rather than status”,

and therefore that

“we cannot necessarily break down that support based on the migratory status of recipients to determine what percentage of beneficiaries are refugees, IDPs,” or

“members of a host community”.