Friday, 6 May 2016

UK approach to refugees + the agreed approach in the light of Wednesdays agreement

The approach of the United Kingdom to this global crisis of refugees is a subject that parliament has been debating for years, but it has recently crystallised over where we take the refugees from. 
I wanted to reply in some detail as this issue is far from simple, albeit all the parties are now in agreement following debates and discussions in both Houses of Parliament. 

My attempts to get a better understanding of the issue:
To get a better understanding I travelled in January 2014 to the Nizip Refugee camps, which are located on the Syrian and Turkish borders. Whilst there I met and talked with hundreds of refugees, who were fleeing the conflict and Assad attacks on the neighbouring cities of Homs and Aleppo. I worked in the camp on a social action project. Together with others I helped provide clothing and supplies for the refugees. Whilst there I then had extensive discussions with the UNHCR representatives, the various aid agencies present, representatives of the Turkish and other governments, the Syrian Army in exile, and the UK Department for International Development civil servants who were supervising the distribution of UK aid.
Subsequently on my return I have repeatedly raised this issue in parliament along with the establishment of safe humanitarian corridors to ensure the aid gets through.
All of the refugees we spoke to were desperate for the war to end, Assad to be defeated, and to be able to return to their home country. However, that has 
not been able to be possible through diplomacy that can square the circle with Russia and the various other players in this conflict, and the increasing role of ISIS in the Syrian conflict.
Details of my trip and my views are here:

The details and transcript of the parliamentary debate I held to get humanitarian support are set in details here: 

There is a great deal more detail on this issue on the blog over the last few years, not least this piece I wrote before the Middle East debate we held in a local Hexham church last year:
What the UK Government is and has been doing
It’s not just that Britain is giving more than any country in Europe; we’re doing more than the rest of Europe put together.
The key points are: 
  • We have doubled our aid for the Syrian crisis to £2.3 billion, our largest ever response to a single humanitarian crisis.  This support has reached millions of people.
  • We co-hosted the London conference in February to galvanise international efforts, securing pledges of more than $11 billion, the largest amount ever raised in one day for a humanitarian crisis.
  • These commitments will create an estimated 1.1 million jobs for refugees and host country citizens by 2018 and by the end of the school year 2016/17 1.7 million refugee and vulnerable children will be in quality education with equal access for girls and boys.
  • We have established a new resettlement scheme focused on children at risk in the Middle East and North Africa, the first of its kind focused on the region and which will see up to 3,000 people, of all nationalities, relocated to the UK over the next four years. We have worked closely with the UNHCR to develop this scheme and it reflects their advice on how best to safeguard the children caught up in this appalling conflict.
  • This scheme, along with our existing programmes, will result in thousands of children being brought to the UK over the next four years.
  • In the last quarter of 2015 we resettled 1,085 refugees under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Scheme, over half of whom were children. 
  • And we received over 3,000 asylum applications from unaccompanied children last year.
  • Family reunion under the Dublin Regulation, which provides the necessary legal structure to facilitate family reunification claims in the EU, is also seeing children who claim asylum in other EU countries being reunited with relatives in the UK.
  • Over 30 children have been accepted for transfer from France this year already and over 20 have arrived in the UK. Overall we have accepted the transfer of more children under Dublin this year than the whole of the last three years put together.
  • The UK is the largest bilateral contributor to the crisis in Europe and the Balkans with a total contribution of £65m. DFID have committed nearly £46 million to provide life-saving aid to migrants and refugees including food, water, hygiene kits and infant packs, and protection for the most vulnerable, as well as support to organisations helping governments build their capacity to manage arrivals in Greece and the Balkans.
  • We have established a £10m Refugee Children Fund focused specifically on the needs of children in Europe.  Save the Children, along with the UNHCR and the International Rescue Committee will administer this £10m fund. This includes identifying vulnerable children, providing for their immediate support, referral to specialist care and assistance with family reunification.
  • 75 UK experts are being deployed to Greece to support more effective reception processes for new arrivals, which will help to identify children and see they are given appropriate support and care at the earliest opportunity. The first cohort should arrive in Greece in the next couple of weeks.
  • Over 1,000 days of expert support have already been provided to Italy and Greece, through the European Asylum Support Office (EASO)

I could go on and am happy to provide more details. The point is that the UK has more than played its part, and is taking tens of thousands of refugees.
All of this is in excess of the work that the UK government is doing to accommodate and assist normal migrationary flows: for example, in the year to September 2015 net migration to the UK was 323,000. This upward trend has been going for a while, and needs to be accommodated, not least as many of the migrants require fostering, adoption or have to go into care. This is not a simple process, on which I elaborate below.

The differing approaches: do you take the refugees from the camps direct or from European countries?

I am absolutely certain the approach of the Prime Minister is correct - to take the refugees fundamentally from the camps in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the camp I went to just inside the Turkish border.

There is a fundamental difference between the UK approach and the approach of others. We are preferring to support vulnerable people who wish to leave the refugee camps and discourage those who seek to make the journey alone, or who are economic migrants, and not asylum seekers. The government has focused on genuine asylum seekers: of the unaccompanied children who registered with European authorities last year is only 1 in 7 were Syrian. About half were from Afghanistan, others were from Eritrea and Iraq.

Syria has five million refugees, but a further seven million are internally displaced. In Jordan, there are 600,000 Syrian refugees in urgent need of assistance. In turkey close to a million, some of whom I met at Nizip. This has been the focus of British efforts not just in aid but working with Jordanian and Turkish authorities to let the Syrians work, rather than depend on handouts.

The issue with the Dubs amendment was not would we take 3000 refugees, regardless of whether they were asylum seekers or not? The British Government said it would take 3000 – but from the United Nations’ “at risk” register, which includes teenagers at risk of child marriage or sexual exploitation, as requested by the UN.

I regret to say that I do not believe the approach of Mrs Merkel in Germany has been the right policy choice. 8 months ago she tore up all agreements – notably the Dublin agreement and the UN Refugee Convention. This has caused chaos; it has exacerbated the people smuggling and the border crossings, and is not a policy I agree with. Indeed Mrs Merkel is now herself reversing this policy, and that is one of the reasons why the Royal Navy and other European ships are doing what they can to stop the people smuggling. 

Be that as it may the UK has continued to play its part and this recent debate centred on one issue – from where do we take further refugees?

On Wednesday, after negotiations with Save the Children and Local Authorities the Prime Minister was able to make the following clear in the House of Commons, the 4/5/16: 

“We are already taking child migrants in Europe with a direct family connection to the UK, and we will speed that up. I am also talking to Save the Children to see what more we can do, particularly with children who came here before the EU-Turkey deal was signed, because I say again that I do not want us to take steps that will encourage people to make this dangerous journey. Otherwise, our actions, however well-meaning they will be, could result in more people dying, rather than more people getting a good life; but let me just say again that I do reject the comparison with the Kindertransport. I do so for this reason: I would argue that what we are doing primarily—taking children from the region, taking vulnerable people from the camps, going to the neighbouring countries and taking people into our country, housing them, clothing them, feeding them and making sure they can have a good life here—is like the Kindertransport.

I think that to say that the Kindertransport is like taking children today from France, Germany or Italy—safe countries that are democracies—is an insult to those countries. But, as I have said, because of the steps we are taking, it will not be necessary to send the Dubs amendment back to the House of Lords; the amendment does not now mention a number of people. We are going to go around the local authorities and see what more we can do, but let us stick to the principle that we should not be taking new arrivals to Europe.”


Lord Dubs has welcomed this approach today. The reality therefore is that there is an agreed position between the original Dubs amendment, and the revised Dubs amendment after Lord Dubs changed his approach, and after discussions between government, and the various charitable and local authorities. The Government’s focus has been on how it can play the most effective role in an extremely difficult situation and not make matters even worse or lead to inadvertent consequences where people traffickers encourage more children to put their lives at risk by making the dangerous sea crossing to Europe. Action has been taken to support children through the deployment of aid and experts as well as the Government’s new resettlement scheme.

I want to finish on a serious point where you may be able to help. The numbers of people whether in Northumberland or across the UK who have agreed to foster or adopt a refugee is extremely low. If a refugee is not so adopted or fostered then they are required by law to go into care with the local social services. These services have been supported with DFID money but this is clearly not the ideal option. If you wish to adopt or foster a child I would urge you to contact Northumberland County Council

Call 01670 62 62 62 to enquire about starting or extending your family, or email:

I am an ancestor of recent immigrants and I feel very proud of what this country is doing; I have set out both the government’s outstanding record, and how you personally can help going forward but am happy to provide more details if you write in in the usual way.