Tuesday, 26 April 2016

My vote on taking child refugees from Europe

A number of constituents have contacted me regarding last night's vote on taking child refugees from Europe. You can find my reasons for how I voted below. 

Although I understand why this amendment was tabled and why you support it, I decided to vote against it for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it's important to point out that the UK Government has already pledged to take in 3,000 extra child refugees directly from Syria and the region. These will be children who are deemed the most vulnerable and need to be relocated to a safe country.

Our policy of taking refugees needs to be in a managed way. I know some people think the relocation of 20,000 refugees plus an additional 3,000 child refugees by 2020 is not adequate, however, we need to look at this situation taking into account the current landscape of net migration into the UK and what services and homes are available for refugees.

We need to make sure that refugees who come here have a roof over their head, clothes to wear and food to eat. This is easier said than done when we have tens of thousands of people still waiting for a home on their local authority housing lists. Further to this, with 300,000 people net coming into the country, there is extra pressure on housing.

If we were not legally obliged to take part in the EU's freedom of movement and could therefore sensibly manage the number of EU migrants coming into the UK, there would an ability to take more refugees and a lot more freedom for local authorities and their social service departments to help.

The second reason I voted against this amendment is because I do not think a policy of taking in refugees should be incorporated into a Bill that will eventually become an act of law.

Taking in refugees should be a Government policy rather than a law. Turning this policy into a piece of law would be the wrong way to go about addressing the refugee crisis, and could also set a precedent for further acts of law to be amended for the relocation of refugees. Political parties or governments make manifesto commitments or policy targets for immigration numbers, but not laws that set them in stone.

The Government has made it clear from the outset that it will focus on relocating refugees directly from the region. Those who have entered Europe are no longer in a war zone, and UK efforts should be focused on helping people in the region. For those unaccompanied children who are in Europe and who this amendment focuses on, they can be helped by the countries in which they are already situated. EU countries are safe, and relocating them here would mean less children being helped who would come directly from the region.

One of the reasons why we are taking people direct from the camps in the Middle East is down to the pull factor. If we take people from Europe, you will create an incentive for more to take the risk of travelling across the Mediterranean, thus fuelling the people trafficking gangs who make money by taking vulnerable people, at great risk across the sea.  

The UK is the second biggest bilateral donor of humanitarian aid for the crisis in Syria and Europe, having already pledged £2.3 billion. Our contribution is almost as much as the whole of the rest of European Union.

The Government is also donating £14.5 million to provide aid in countries that refugees and migrants are leaving from and travelling through. This includes £3 million to provide aid to migrants and refugees and support to governments in managing registration in the Western Balkans; and £4 million to provide life-saving assistance and protection in Europe, including Greece and Italy.

An additional £30 million for shelter, warm clothes, hot food and medical supplies has also been announced, including for 27,000 children and babies.

The Government is already putting a lot of work and money into helping refugees, and I hope you understand my reasons for not voting for this amendment.