22 OCT 2017

Refugees

Last night (21 October) I spoke at an event organised by Bread and Roses in Thame.  Bread and Roses is a group of Thame residents who want to bring together individuals to tackle the problems faced by refugees.  The essence of my speech is set out below. There are now over 65 million displaced people in the world.

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The pictures of refugees on television bring home the human side of the refugee crisis. They present a very moving picture of what refugees have to endure. But television usually only presents one crisis at a time and the current situation with the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and Bangladesh has added yet another region and made the global situation worse. Take the Annual Report on Global Trends produced by the UN Refugee Agency, for example. Its most recent report was only published in June this year. In it they estimated that 65.5 million people had been forcibly displaced worldwide – that is more than the population of the British Isles. This excludes economic migrants who have chosen to displace themselves. .

For a Government there are several underlying and cross cutting issues they need to consider and understand. These include:

  • How to bring an end to the causes of the displacement
  • How to assess the impact that displacement has on neighbouring countries e.g. Jordan where one refugee camp is already Jordan's fourth largest city.
  • How to ensure refugees are safe and are not subject to forms of modern day slavery or exploitation
  • How to take into account the long term picture for refugees given that most want to return to their own country of origin.

Whilst relief and humanitarian aid are important, what can be done for say 100,000 refugees is very different to what can be done for 65.5 million refugees and the concentration needs to be put on the root causes of creating refugees such as war and conflict.

The conflict in Syria is now in its 7th year and has already led to the world's largest number of refugees. However in 2016 the biggest new factor was South Sudan, where the disastrous break-off of peace efforts in July of that year contributed to an exodus of approaching 1 million. That number has continued to rise during the first half of 2017.

The figures show the scale and global spread of the problem. Colombians (7.7 million) and Afghans (4.7 million) remain the second- and third-largest displaced populations, followed by Iraqis (4.2 million). In total, about 3.3 million South Sudanese had fled their homes by the end of last year, in what has become the fastest-growing displacement of people in the world. Particularly heart-breaking is the plight of children, who make up half the world's refugees, and continue to bear a disproportionate burden of the suffering, mainly because of their heightened vulnerability.

So what role is the UK playing in this global problem?

Speaking at President Obama's Refugee Summit in New York, the Prime Minister demonstrated how the UK is leading the international response to mass migration crises around the world by making a series of new commitments including:

  • increasing UK humanitarian financing by more than £660 million in 2016/17 to over £1.5 billion
  • £2.5 million seed funding for a new global fund to resettle refugees
  • UK support for a jobs compact with Ethiopia to create 100,000 new jobs for Ethiopians and refugees

The provision of over £1.5 billion in humanitarian finance marks more than a 10% increase on last year's commitment and secures the UK's place as the second largest bilateral humanitarian donor in the world. The UK's investments will help to protect the world's most vulnerable people, including those persecuted by Daesh brutality in the Middle East. It includes new funding to support refugees in Uganda, Kenya, in the Sahel and Mediterranean regions, and additional support for refugees and displaced persons in Afghanistan. The support also maintains the UK as one of the biggest humanitarian donors to the Syria crisis. To date British support has delivered life-saving support of almost 22 million food rations, over 4.4 million medical consultations; and shelter for over 476,000 people.

The new Emerging Countries Joint Support Resettlement Fund which is being led by the International Organisation for Migration in partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is facilitating the transfer of thousands of vulnerable refugees from places where their needs cannot be properly met to new resettlement countries, including places in Europe and Latin America. It will ensure that refugees are identified and resettled in a safe, dignified and orderly manner, reducing the need for dangerous onward journeys.

The UK is also providing new support for a jobs compact with Ethiopia – the largest refugee hosting nation in Africa. The compact, agreed with the Government of Ethiopia, the World Bank, the European Investment Bank and the EU, will receive £80 million of UK support and support industrialisation in Ethiopia creating 100,000 new jobs for Ethiopians and refugees. This builds on the success of the innovative approach pioneered by the UK at the London Syria conference, which saw a deal agreed with Jordan to create jobs for refugees and Jordanians.

There are those who say that with economic difficulties at home we should cut back on the 0.7% of GNI spent on International Aid. With the scale of the global problem and the enormous problems that people face I do not support this view. It is both in the humanitarian interests of displaced people and indeed in our own interests for global stability and security to play our part in tackling these issues.

The Government's policy has been to be generous with humanitarian aid to Syria's neighbours. In early 2014 it established the Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement Programme (VPRP) in order to provide a route for selected Syrians to come to the UK. The VPRP first prioritised the elderly, the disabled and victims of sexual violence and torture. It also plans to resettle up to 20,000 people from the Syrian region over the next five years. The Government is working with local authorities and the voluntary sector to implement the programme. To assist Syrians' integration into UK society a 'community sponsorship' scheme was launched in July 2016.

In addition to the VPRP, the Government committed itself to providing resettlement for up to 3,000 vulnerable children (and family members) from conflict situations in the Middle East and North Africa region.

The Government continues to commit a significant amount of international aid to assistance programmes in the regions neighbouring Syria. It takes the view that this is preferable to encouraging Syrian refugees to make dangerous journeys to Europe. The UK has committed over £2.46 billion to helping refugees in Syria and the region, making it the second largest donor to the Syrian refugee crisis since the start of the crisis in 2012.

As well as tackling the symptoms of the current migration crisis the UK is focused on tackling the causes and trying to end conflicts that cause refugees. In this Parliament we are delivering an even more ambitious approach which is substantially increasing our investment in fragile states and regions. We will help to address the causes of conflict and instability through increased support for tackling corruption, promoting good governance, developing security and justice, and creating jobs and economic opportunity.

Tackling conflict and improving stability and economic opportunity overseas is part of our long-term, comprehensive approach to migration. We will ensure that our investment in countries of origin helps to reduce forced displacement and migration over the long term. We will do much more to help refugees closer to their homes. We will deliver humanitarian aid to those who are forcibly displaced, and provide education and livelihood opportunities. We will build the capacity of source and transit countries to manage their borders more effectively, and to tackle organised immigration crime. The UK is the second largest aid donor in the world in cash terms, and one of the few that already meets the target of spending at least 0.7% of GDP on International Aid.

In Somalia, South Sudan, north-eastern Nigeria and Yemen, conflict and drought have pushed families to the brink of starvation. Between 2000 and 2016 there was only one certified famine. In 2017, famine has been declared in parts of South Sudan and there is a credible risk of famine in the other 3 countries. This too needs to be tackled.

Finally, let me turn to people smuggling. As has already been pointed out people smuggling begins onshore. Once the boats have set sail, it is too late. I agree that what we need to do is to disrupt the business model of people smuggling. However much we have had a humanitarian success it needs to focus on tackling people smuggling and supporting sustainable economic development and good governance in these countries

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