Global refugee crisis decades in the making

Date: Monday 20th March 2017

Sir, I would like to thank everyone who wrote in with their views on my recent column. In it I tried to describe, in 800 words, just how complex this situation is.

I wrote also from the position of having personally — over the course of the last 15 years — visited the war zones themselves, the ports, the camps, and the processing centres. And in particular from having spent the last few months closely following refugees from the Syrian crisis through four separate countries. That included spending days with refugees in Europe, not just in the Middle East.

The refugees of Calais, like the refugees in Greece, are not a separate, stand-alone issue, but part of the fabric of a global crisis that has been decades in the making.

Most importantly they reflect wars and conflicts. And our obligation to them is part of our wider obligation towards the tens of millions of refugees worldwide. I strongly disagree with the idea that we have a stronger moral obligation towards a refugee in France or Greece, than we do towards refugees in the Middle East, or to those tragically trapped in Syria itself.

I cannot state any more bluntly what I already said in my column: that, with limited resources, the UK has already made an enormous investment in programs supporting refugees, the second largest international donor in the world. The government response to the migrant crisis has been to establish resettlement schemes from the region, where we can best target our support to help the most vulnerable. That is why we will resettle 20,000 Syrians over the course of this parliament and we will also resettle 3,000 children and their families from the wider region.

In the last year we have granted asylum or another form of leave to over 8,000 children and of the over 4,400 individuals resettled through the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement scheme so far, around half are children.

Last week the Government announced that in accordance with section 67 of the Immigration Act (the so-called Dubs amendment) we will transfer 350 children to meet the amendment. The scheme has NOT closed, as reported by some. We were obliged by the Immigration Act to put a specific number on how many children we would take based on a consultation with local authorities about their capacity.

This is the number that we have published and we will now be working in Greece, Italy and France to transfer further children under the amendment.

We’re clear that behind these numbers are children and it’s vital that we get the balance right between enabling eligible children to come to the UK as quickly as possible and ensuring local authorities have capacity to host them and provide them with the support and care they will need.

But this is only part of a much larger UK effort currently providing life-saving support including food, shelter and healthcare to literally millions of Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.

Finally, I would sound a note of caution; which is that is highly reckless to incentivise perilous journeys to Europe, particularly by the most vulnerable children. That is why children must have arrived in Europe before 20th March 2016 to be eligible under section 67 of the Immigration Act.

With regard to what Cumbria is doing, arrivals will start in Spring, 2017, when all the necessary support services are in place to provide the range of input that refugees are likely to require.

A website is now up and running, which provides more information about the local response to this humanitarian crisis www.cumbria.gov.uk/refugees. Yours etc,

RORY STEWART

(MP for Penrith and the Border)