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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:12 pm on 4th July 2019.

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Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy), SNP Deputy Leader 2:12 pm, 4th July 2019

Thank you for chairing this debate, Mr Evans. I congratulate all those who created this report: the Select Committee members, the staff team, and all those who contributed evidence and shared their experience. I think it is an excellent report that is full of detail and has great recommendations. Stephen Twigg made an excellent opening speech, which really did the report justice.

The global refugee compact states:

“Countries that receive and host refugees, often for extended periods, make an immense contribution from their own limited resources to the collective good, and indeed to the cause of humanity.”

The SNP will continue to be an advocate for the most vulnerable. We call on the UK Government to do more. The UK Government have been slow in filling the 480 places they promised for unaccompanied children; only 220 of those places have been filled so far, which means there are 260 unaccompanied children alone out there who could be helped today by the UK Government. It is imperative that they fulfil their commitment—I would prefer it to be more—and ensure that those 260 children are helped.

Education is a long-term challenge, and is easily disrupted by outside events. My hon. Friend David Linden recently led a debate in this Chamber on education for the most vulnerable and marginalised people. The “Send my friend to school” campaign brings to the ears of children in these nations the issues that are faced by those who cannot attend school and do not have access to a good education system. It is amusing because, when we speak to young children in our constituencies, not all of them are all that enthusiastic about going to school, but they really see the benefits of it and believe that everybody should have a right to education. It is great to meet so many young people who are incredibly passionate about ensuring that everybody receives an education. Imagine not being able to learn. Imagine the impact on individuals and communities if children are not able to learn. It is unimaginable that we would allow that for our own children, so we should do everything we can to ensure that children across the world have access to education.

Samara McIntyre, a teacher in Aberdeen, has done everything she can to teach young people in Kittybrewster Primary School about access to education and refugees more widely. When I was brought in to speak to her class, I was given the most intense grilling I have ever received. Those young people were so passionate and they could not believe that we are not doing more. They were absolutely sure that there was more that could be done. They sat me down and said, “You need to do more. What are you going to do?” I am standing here today asking the UK Government to do more.

I want to highlight a few of the things we have been doing in Scotland, particularly on education. The Scottish Government have helped 73,000 Malawian children to stay in school by supporting a feeding programme, and our Pakistan scholarship scheme has helped to support more than 400 women and 1,400 school children to continue their education. We have also started the Livingstone fellowship scheme, which allows doctors from Zambia and Malawi to come to Scotland for specialist training. They take that back to their countries and use their knowledge.

Recommendation 14 in the report is about women and women’s empowerment. I believe that we will not empower women unless we educate them and ensure that they have access to appropriate healthcare and contraceptive choices, so that they can make the choice about what they do with their bodies. Where they desire it, they can choose not to have children and so can escape that poverty trap. That is incredibly important. That is even more vital in post-conflict zones, where there are often a huge number of internally displaced people, and access to medical facilities can be incredibly patchy. Contraception is perhaps not the first thing that people think of when providing medical aid, but it is greatly important for the empowerment and support of women.

I want to flag up an issue that I discovered in a UK Government Home Office paper on trafficked women from Nigeria. It says:

“Trafficked women who return from Europe, wealthy from prostitution”— wealthy from prostitution!—

“enjoy high social-economic status and in general are not subject to negative social attitudes on return.”

I raised that issue a couple of weeks ago with a Home Office Minister in the Chamber, and the document is still online and has not been changed. I am hugely concerned about that use of language. Kate Osamor also mentioned it in the Chamber this week. It needs to be changed, because the UK Government should not have that view of women who have been trafficked and used in prostitution.

On the SNP’s support for women, the UN special envoy to Syria invited our First Minister to provide support and training to female peacemakers in negotiation and communication skills. The Scottish Government and the SNP will continue to do all we can to empower women and help them to rebuild their communities.

The report says that the UK must practise what it preaches. We agree that the UK should commit to taking 10,000 people per year after 2020. That represents a meaningful but, we believe, realistic increase over the current commitment. We are playing our part in Scotland—these are not hollow words—and we commit to continuing to do so. We have already taken almost 20% of the Syrian refugees, despite the fact that Scotland has less than 10% of the UK population. We are doing what we can, and we promise to continue doing so, but we need the UK Government to make commitments on that.

On the UK practising what it preaches, the point has been made eloquently that the UK should allow asylum seekers to work. A study from 2016 showed that if 25% of asylum seekers switched to self-sufficiency through work, it would save the equivalent of £46 million in 2017-18 prices. It would not just save money; it would ensure that people are better integrated into our society. It would reduce some of the negative social stigma from other people who are not refugees looking on and saying, “This person is an asylum seeker. They are not working; they are just living on Government handouts,” when many of them are highly trained and really want to work.

We can do more, we should do more and we must do more. We are talking about the most vulnerable people on the planet. Who are we if we do not do everything we can to support them?