Walker welcomes increased support for Syrian refugees

MP reflects on powerful response from local groups and residents

 

Today Parliament will hear a statement from the Government on the extra measures being

taken to respond to the humanitarian situation in Syria and the Mediterranean. Over the

last week a large number of Worcester residents have written to Robin Walker with their

concerns about this situation and he has passed on their calls for the UK to take more action

to help, raising concerns directly with the team at Number Ten Downing Street.

 

Robin has welcomed the swift response from the Government, the informed and powerful

statement from the Archbishop of Canterbury and the compassionate concerns of local

residents and church groups. He has written to local residents who have contacted him

about the matter saying:

“Thank you for your recent email concerning asylum for Syrian refugees. It is one of a large

number I have received over the last few days and I quite understand the public concern

about this matter.

 

I share your concerns about the appalling humanitarian situation and I contacted the Prime

Minister’s office last week, to make them aware of the strong concerns of Worcester

residents about this and the strong support for the UK to do more to help. I welcome the

steps that the Prime Minister has already taken to increase the number of asylum seekers

the UK will receive and to allow thousands more to come to the UK in addition to the 5,000

asylum seekers from Syria who have already been granted asylum.

 

We must recognise this is a major international crisis and it will require an international

solution. The UK is already doing more than any other European country to help with the

humanitarian situation, and I think the Archbishop of Canterbury was right to point this out

in his comments about the situation.

 

It is important to remember that whilst we must do everything we can to improve the

humanitarian situation, save lives and safeguard the innocent civilians involved, it would be

wrong to offer uncontrolled asylum, as Germany has. In my opinion, this is not the solution

and tragically, it may be that this offer has encouraged more people to take the kind of risks

that led to tragic deaths that are documented in the upsetting photos we have all seen.

 

We need to make sure we support those people who need it most, but must avoid creating

pull factors that would encourage more people to take appalling risks to reach the EU. That

is why I think our Prime Minister is right to prioritise taking asylum claims directly from UN

camps around Syria so that we can bring people to the UK safely, rather than encouraging

people to travel here to apply as other countries have done. Currently, refugees are having

to face treacherous journeys and the real risk of drowning as a result of the activities of

people smugglers and illegal traffickers taking advantage of their desire to reach the EU. To

stop this, the UK will take refugees directly from the camps outside Syria to the UK, thus

reducing the brutality and abuse these people are otherwise in danger of being exposed to.

We must also ensure that we differentiate between genuine refugees and asylum seekers

coming from Syria, Libya and Eritrea, and economic migrants coming from elsewhere. The

people of Syria have been living with a civil war since March 2011 and this has been made

much worse by the rise of ISIL; a terrorist organisation unlike those we have ever dealt with

before. £900 million has already been committed by the UK to help people displaced by the

Syrian crisis, making us the second largest bilateral donor in the world and the largest in

Europe in responding to that humanitarian crisis. We are providing food, shelter, medical

care and clean drinking water, for hundreds of thousands of people affected by the conflict,

both inside Syria and for refugees across the region. I am glad that the Government has

already announced that it is stepping up this support even further.

 

I thought the Archbishop of Canterbury was right to draw attention to the vital lifesaving

work of the UK Armed forces in the Mediterranean. HMS Bulwark was sent to the

Mediterranean by the Defence Secretary and during her 2 month deployment, 4500 people

were saved by her crew. There were over 30 countries of origin, however the highest

nationality of these people were from Nigeria. There were only 112 Syria but the Libyan

coast is not the main point of departure for Syrian refugees. People from Eritrea and Sudan

(North & South) told crew on-board Bulwark they had been walking for six months to reach

the coast. One of the successes of this deployment was that nine people smugglers, who

had hidden amongst the people in the boats, were detained by the UK Royal Marines who

handed them over to the Italian Authorities for arrest. I strongly believe that as well as

offering immediate help to those at risk, the UK must assist its European partners to tackle

organised immigration crime in the UK, the Mediterranean and Africa. These people

smugglers are human traffickers, exploiting vulnerable and desperate people. They

encourage people to board boats not fit for purpose, steal possessions and money and put

them at risk of death. Were it not for the activities of HMS Bulwark, 4500 more people

would have been at risk of drowning.

 

A dedicated law enforcement team of around 90 officers has also been established to tackle

organised immigration crime in the UK, the Mediterranean and Africa. It will pursue and

disrupt organised crime groups and use every to eliminate the gangs’ criminal operations.

HMS Enterprise which replaced HMS Bulwark in the Mediterranean was recently switched

from intelligence gathering to rescue duties. A further 450 people have already been

rescued from the waters as part of an international force that dealt with more than 20

vessels in distress.

 

The UK is also providing practical and financial support to other EU countries, including help

to process newly arrived illegal immigrants and distinguish between economic migrants and

genuine refugees. In addition, the UK has introduced new aid initiatives totalling £217

million in Africa that will go to help approximately 2.5 million refugees and vulnerable

people in the countries that the majority of migrants are travelling from or through. This is

part of over £4 billion the Government has already committed to improving economic

development, governance and security in African states as well as improving access to basic

services.

 

For those who do reach the UK, we have a long history of granting asylum to those who

need our protection. Asylum seekers in the UK who are destitute are provided with an

essential living allowance and accommodation, are exempt from paying utility bills and

Council Tax, and have access to free healthcare and schooling. I know that local groups and

churches in Worcestershire have offered to help with any refugees who are settled locally

and that the County Council is reviewing its options as to how it could support a number of

refugees in Worcestershire. I welcome the announcement that support will be made

available from the DFID budget to help councils who take this step.

 

It is important to remember that we were the first G8 country to reach the 0.7% of GDP

target for spending on international development much of which is used in humanitarian aid

and the last parliament passed a law to enshrine this commitment which I voted for. The UK

can be proud of its role in supporting refugees both historically and recently, but I do

recognise the public demand to do more in this situation and I will keep pushing for us to do

everything we can to improve the situation.

 

Thank you for sharing your views, which I can assure you I have taken action on and I will

continue to monitor the situation closely.”

 

Robin will be attending the Prime Minister’s statement in the commons at 3.30pm today.

 

 Notes to editors

For more detail on the Government’s response to the humanitarian situation see:

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/syria-refugees-uk-government-response

For a breakdown of DFID’s spending in this area see:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/458717/DFID_Syri

a_Crisis_Response_Summary__2015.09.04_.pdf

For more information on the MOD’s involvement and the activities of HMS Enterprise and HMS

Bulwark see:

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/hms-enterprise-rescues-over-450-migrants

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/hms-enterprise-to-replace-hms-bulwark-in-the-

mediterranean

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/hms-bulwark-conducts-largest-rescue-to-date

For the Archbishop of Canterbury’s comments see:

http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/5606/archbishop-of-canterbury-on-the-

migrant-crisis