John Howell MP Writes - June 2016


A look back at recent key issues in Westminster and the Constituency

The refugee problems that we have are the result of complex situations which do not have easy answers. Many of the reports that we see and hear about the plight of refugees are shocking and I share the concern expressed by many. Many of the reports that we see and hear do not give the full picture. Many of the reports that we see and hear fail to distinguish between refugees and economic migrants. Numbers and locations have been bandied around in the news which seek to make political capital out of a critical humanitarian situation especially where children are involved. I want to take the opportunity this month to share my views and to try to bring some clarity to what the Government has been doing on this important issue. The question that governments have to ask is how we can best help those in need without, as far as possible, inflaming already difficult situations. 

Firstly there is much that the Government does through the Department for International Development (DfID) and I am completely committed to the UK meeting its commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of our economy on aid despite many people suggesting that we cannot afford to do this.

On unaccompanied children I fully support us helping them. I am deeply concerned that we do not set conditions which create a perverse incentive for families to entrust their children to people setting them on the dangerous sea crossing to Europe. This is why the government has agreed that only children who were already registered in Europe before the EU-Turkey deal on 20 March will be eligible for resettlement where it is in their best interests and why the focus is on taking children from the camps around Syria.

I am also pleased that we are supporting professional agencies well experience in this work such as UNHCR, Save the Children and the International Rescue Committee. I am pleased too that we are supporting our neighbouring governments in Europe. The UK is the largest bilateral contributor to the humanitarian response to the crisis in Europe and is assisting countries build their capacity to manage the situation. In this DfID has committed £46 million to help support refugees and a £10 million fund focused specifically on the needs of children in Europe. This includes supporting reunification with family they may have been separated from and who are in other EU countries including the UK. Separately, 75 UK experts are being deployed to Greece to support more effective reception screening and processing of newly arrived migrants which will also help identify children and see that they are given appropriate support and care at the earliest opportunity. 

Refugees are usually in a traumatised state when they arrive in a place of safety. This is why it is important to work with local councils who have responsibility for housing and other support services to establish their preparedness to receive refugees. We need to ensure that they have support networks in place to enable them to settle.

Some have made comparisons with the Kindertransport but these are wide of the mark. The essence of the Kindertransport was to take unaccompanied children from an unsafe area of the world and to give them sanctuary. That is precisely what the Government has been doing in supporting countries most affected by the continuing migration crisis in the Middle East and North Africa where we are making the biggest difference and to provide resettlement to those most in need of support in the region.

There will always be new challenges in these situations and we must be careful to take measured action that protects people’s interests and not rush into emotional responses that puts lives at risk.

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