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

The hon. Gentleman is right. It is for the Government to decide on the numbers, but there is an enthusiasm and commitment in constituencies including his and mine and, I am sure, those of Members across the House, among faith communities, other communities and local authorities. I know that because when Syrian refugees came to Liverpool there was real enthusiasm and positivity. Although 10,000 would be a really significant contribution, it is not a large number of people; it is 30 refugees for each constituency. That is not a large number, and the hon. Gentleman is right to make the point that there would be a moral purpose to which faith communities and others would absolutely sign up.

The Committee, which is cross-party, endorsed the UNHCR’s call to increase resettlement places to 10,000, and we added the rider that we felt that at least a quarter of those places should be for refugees from sub-Saharan Africa. We were disappointed but, if I am honest, not surprised that the Home Office, and the Government collectively, rejected that recommendation. The progress that the UK has made with the Syrian vulnerable persons and vulnerable children resettlement schemes shows the capacity to scale up resettlement schemes quickly if the political will is there. Given the severity and urgency of the refugee crisis in Africa, a similar response is required. I hope that the Government will reconsider our recommendation.

I will finish by talking about some broader issues. We were very worried that the Government’s approach to forced displacement is too influenced by the desire to control the number of people coming to Europe. Migration is, perfectly understandably, central to the UK’s strategies on aid and on national security and defence. Both those strategies focus heavily on refugees and migrants travelling to Europe and the implications of that for the UK.

We received evidence expressing concern that the focus on Europe risked detracting from tackling the root causes of displacement—hence “Anchors, not walls”. Action Aid said:

“The emphasis on preventing the movement of refugees towards Europe is short-sighted, unlikely to address the symptoms of deep-rooted power imbalances, structural inequalities or underlying drivers of conflict and climate change”.

There is real concern, for example, about the European Union emergency trust fund for Africa, to which the UK contributes both directly and through our contributions to the EU budget and the European development fund. Care International told us:

“EU Trust Funds…were not established with a vision to reduce poverty or meet humanitarian needs or human rights, but to stem migration flows to the EU.”

Programmes funded by UK aid should surely be driven first and foremost by the objective of protecting people on the ground, many of whom are the most vulnerable people in the world. That should surely be reflected in all our work in this area.

We also heard widespread unease about the human rights implications of some of the UK Government’s work on irregular migration, particularly with regard to Libya and the Khartoum process. The 2017 report of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact cited significant concerns about the potential for the UK’s support to the Libyan coastguard to breach the “do no harm” principle. There are serious concerns that the programmes are returning vulnerable migrants and refugees to Libyan detention centres, where Amnesty International have told us that migrants and refugees are

“routinely exposed to torture, extortion and rape.”

ICAI’s follow-up report said that

DFID has taken action to strengthen analysis and risk management”,

but noted that

“the cross-government Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) has more to do in this area.”

The UK’s involvement remains a cause for apprehension. As a Committee, we are very worried that policies pursued by some parts of the UK Government risk conflicting with others. There is a pressing need for a more joined-up approach to migration across Government.

We concluded that the Government need to take a comprehensive look at all their policies on migration and displacement. We called for a national strategy to bring much-needed clarity and transparency, to consolidate the work that DFID is doing with that of other Government Departments to identify and resolve areas of conflict, facilitate better cross-Government working and create a coherent narrative that should reflect the UK’s position as a progressive voice in the debate on displacement and migration.