Thursday, March 02, 2017

Letters from my postbag - 1

It's a metaphorical postbag. Usually, it's emails, to which this blog post is a response. I will ask my office to email it out to all those who have written to me about the issue. I simply do not have enough time to respond to all the emails individually. I hope this form of responding will be ok. What I want to cover in this post is the position of refugee children in fellow EU countries.
I first took a close interest in the refugee crisis in Syria several years ago, when being recalled in summer recess to sanction a military strike against the brutal Bashar al-Assad. I could not see how a military strike would help, and needed clarity about what our forces would do. In the event no attack was agreed. But the controversy about the votes that Sept evening caused me to become much concerned about the appalling conditions being faced by several million displaced people in Syria, being subjected to poison gas, mass murder and deliberate starvation. At the time, I supported the UK taking in Syrian refugees, and am pleased we are taking in 20,000 by 2020. My personal view is that we could take even more - not easy because of security considerations. I attended meetings with refugees, and an important meeting arranged by Andrew Mitchell MP and Clare Short, who had both visited the camps in and around Syria. Some time later, I began receiving emails about the plight of refugee children in France, asking for priority to be given to them. I discussed the issue with Lord Dubs, who had been himself a refugee, and who became the focus for a campaign. I met Lord Dubs, whom I greatly respect, but told him I could not agree with him. My view then, and remains my view now is that that every penny the UK can commit to helping with the refugee crisis must be committed to helping on the ground in Syria and in the camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. I did agree to vote for what became known as the Dubs Amendment, after a long Sunday morning phone conversation with the Immigration Minister, making it clear I still thought it was wrong. Refugees in France were the responsibility of the French Government, a stat e as caring and humanitarian as the UK.
My views have only become firmer over time. And I was particularly moved when watching an hour long film of conditions in Libya a few days ago, created by Ross Kemp of Eastenders fame. It's a deeply shocking and moving film. Human traffickers are taking the money of hundreds of thousands of people in and around Libya, promising them transfer to the UK, as well as other EU countries - and then sending them all to sea in unseaworthy boats. The occupants of those captured in Libyan waters are dumped without food or water on the Libyan border. Many of the poor souls who reach Med waters are simply drowned. It's a devastating film.
Two further points. The Home Secretary informs us that the French authorities are now opposed to our taking refugees from France, because it's being used by traffickers as a 'sales pitch' to refugees looking for a better life. It's making the problem in France worse. And secondly. There is a real fear that the Libyan refugee crisis is spreading to nearby Nigeria, where millions live in fear of Boko Haram, a brutal terrorist organisation. Bringing refugees into the UK from EU countries not only makes the refugee problem worse, but takes our attention away from the 10 million displaced refugees in and around Syria.
I can support calls that the UK should take in more refugees. Even though the UK has contributed more aid than any other country to bringing relief to the refugee disaster in the Middle East. But every ounce and penny of British effort must go to where the humanitarian need is greatest, and not be driven by where the media are free to capture heartbreaking pictures and stories. I have not any doubt where my duty lies. I am driven only by a commitment to ensure the UK work and investment acheives maximum humanitarian impact.

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