I want to set out my position on the refugee crisis which is facing Europe, from the shores of Greece to the so-called “Jungle” camp in Calais.
Like most people I have been shocked by the very many individual tragedies which have been reported, such as the appalling scenes on an Austrian motorway and the daily toll of bodies washed up on beaches across the Mediterranean. The images on our television screens and in our newspapers offer us a glimpse into the reality of life for thousands of people fleeing a region which is in turmoil.
My Labour colleague, and Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper MP spoke out about the United Kingdom’s response to the immediate crisis during a recent visit to Bristol last month. In a further speech just a few days ago she said:
We seem paralysed to respond. Stuck in the troubled politics of immigration when this is about asylum instead. Stuck treating immigration and asylum as the same thing when they are completely different – and we should keep them so. Stuck hiding behind disputes over student visas, illegal working or European agency workers, when none of that has anything to do with refugees.
Stuck talking only about ‘migrants’ when we should mean fathers, sons, sisters, brothers, daughters, mothers. Stuck in political cowardice that assumes British voters’ unease about immigration means they will not forgive anyone who calls for sanctuary – even though our nation has given shelter to the persecuted for centuries, and sometimes moral leadership is needed.
At the time of writing this the UK has so far accepted fewer than 200 Syrian refugees since that conflict began. I fully support calls for this to be dramatically increased. Bristol should play its part and I hope that there will be widespread support for action.
We must also ensure that there is a properly resourced search and rescue mission across the Mediterranean, it is not acceptable to leave it to our European partners, in particular Greece which is still struggling with its own economic crisis. Not to do so will be a complete moral failure.
The longer term goal must be to resolve the conflicts which are raging across the Middle East. A comprehensive peace settlement in the region can only be achieved by defeating the poisonous ideology of ISIL, which is now active from Tunisia to the Sinai as well as in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. However it is not clear to me how effective the military action by more than 60 countries – including 10 Arab states such as Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan – has been to date in halting the spread of ISIL. We must do more with our international partners to establish a comprehensive political and diplomatic strategy in the region. This may mean working closer with countries such as Iran, and I welcome the slow steps taken recently to improve our diplomatic relations in Tehran.
This strategy should include renewed efforts to re-start talks between the Israeli and Palestinian administrations which broke down yet again this year. All acts that are harmful to the peace process should end, this includes the building of settlements – which are illegal and make a peace settlement harder to achieve – and ending support for all terrorist activity. It is the responsibility of the international community to encourage those moderate voices on both sides to be heard so that progress can be made on a two-state solution.
I have been very disappointed by the response to date of the Prime Minister. I have written to him about this issue and I hope that he will now understand the scale of the crisis and that he offers genuine help, including a significant rise in the number of refugees allowed to settle in the United Kingdom. I am sure that this issue will be very high on the agenda when the House of Commons next meets and I expect a full statement from the Government.
Several UK based charities have launched appeals to help those affected, to learn more about how you can help, please use these links:
Karin Smyth MP, September 2015