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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:31 pm on 4th July 2019.

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Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development) 2:31 pm, 4th July 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans, particularly as you are a member of the International Development Committee. I congratulate Stephen Twigg on securing the debate and thank his Committee, through him, for having written a very good report on an issue that is too often overlooked. The report has shone a strong spotlight on it. The debate allowed us to raise some issues considered in the report and to cover the Government’s response. I was glad that we were able to fully accept 22 of the report’s 34 recommendations and partially accept a further nine. In fact, we disagreed with only three, two of which were for the Home Office, while one was a cross-Government matter. I will try to respond to the range of points made in this wide-ranging debate.

The Government fully recognise the scale of the issue, and I hope in my remarks to outline what we are doing not only in our country but, in terms of my responsibilities, across Africa. As I said when I gave evidence to the Committee, we take a needs-based approach to humanitarian issues, so the difference between refugees and internally displaced people is not one that we formally recognise. Legally, of course, there is a difference when we are evaluating the need, so we stand ready to help both internally displaced people and refugees, as I hope I made clear to the Committee.

The point about sexual exploitation was well made. I reassure hon. Members, as I did earlier this week, that in the light of the allegations made in The Times last week, we have checked and ensured that that was not a DFID-funded programme. However, as that example highlights, there can be no let-up in our work to ensure that the highest standards are maintained by the industry and that we get commitments from all our suppliers.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby keeps tempting me on Education Cannot Wait. I am particularly tempted because I do not know whether I will be able to go to the UN General Assembly later this year—I hope I will. He knows that I share the enthusiasm of Kirsty Blackman for the “Send my friend to school” campaign, which connects young people with the right of young people all around the world to go to school. No one could be more committed than I am to the cause of education in emergencies, education for girls and the power of education to make the world a better place in the 21st century. We have announced that we will continue to be one of the leading donors to Education Cannot Wait. As the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby will know, the amount is not yet finalised or announced.

Kate Osamor also raised the importance of education and girls’ education. Not everyone knows that Boko Haram basically translates to “Western education is evil”, which shows how it is feared and how powerful education is for the cultural reasons that she outlined, as well as for the economic impact it can have. Every year someone spends in school adds 10% to their lifetime earnings.

I assure the hon. Lady that we are doing everything we can to encourage the newly re-elected Nigerian Government to tackle the challenges in north-east Nigeria. It was tempting for them to say in the run-up to the election, “Look, we’ve solved the problem. Everything’s okay.” We all recognise that it is not okay. Our North East Nigeria to Transition to Development programme is our top programme in Nigeria and is worth £85.9 million. I assure her that the problems around the Lake Chad basin are at the forefront of our agenda.

The hon. Lady will know that near Rann, many refugees were chased over the border into northern Cameroon and that there was a process of refoulement to take them back to Nigeria. We were able to intervene with the Cameroonian Government to say, “That is not how you treat refugees.”

That brings me to how refugees are treated. Everyone cited the great example of Uganda, which is exemplary. I want to say for the record, though, that in the UK refugees can work from day one. It is important to make the distinction, however, between refugees and those who seek asylum, which is a route often used by people who come as economic migrants. I hope we can all agree that irregular migration, where people risk their lives and those of their families crossing the Mediterranean, doing incredibly dangerous things and putting themselves in the hands of people smugglers, is not something that we can encourage or incentivise. Global compacts are valuable in outlining our desire to regularise such paths, and asylum seeking is clearly an area where there can be and has been abuse. That is why we are careful that, only once 12 months of delay has occurred—through no fault of the person claiming asylum—can they then work in shortage occupations. The Home Secretary has committed to keep that area under review, but I want to make that distinction because I do not think the general public always understands it.

I hope the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby saw the announcement we made on World Refugee day about our approach post 2020, when we will merge all schemes into a single scheme, which will enable us in the first year to offer 5,000 places to refugees. He will be aware that that number is an increase and that the numbers of people coming in under the schemes are ahead of the commitments we have made. I will give Members an update.

In terms of the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, the most recent data shows that, against our commitment of 20,000 by 2020, we will be at nearly 16,000 by the end of the first quarter. The gateway protection scheme is for 750 people a year. As of March, 9,427 people have come under that scheme, including 762 this year. The mandate scheme has no specific annual commitment, but as of March 2019, 423 people had been resettled. Some 1,410 have been resettled under the vulnerable children’s settlement scheme, against a commitment of up to 3,000 by 2020, including 687 in the year to March 2019. In total that is 23,000, plus about 750 per financial year. It is important to note that we very much welcome community sponsorship schemes, and the numbers for those can be counted in addition.

I mentioned the latest on Sudan in my earlier intervention, and it was important to get that on the record. Libya was also raised.