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Foreign Office Questions

5th December 2018

Harriett Baldwin answers MPs’ questions on Africa and other issues.

Refugee Crises

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab)

6. What recent steps he has taken through the UN and other international organisations to tackle refugee crises. [907991]

The Minister for Africa (Harriett Baldwin)

The UK has been working with the United Nations to agree a global compact on refugees, which is set for adoption by the end of the year. It provides a comprehensive global framework that goes beyond life-saving humanitarian support, enabling a longer-term response, offering refugees a viable future.

Debbie Abrahams

The UN’s global compact on refugees is indeed welcome—it recognises our common humanity and interconnectedness—but I am concerned that it is non-binding. How will the Government work to strengthen it? Will the Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary work together to review our restrictive rules, which prevent refugee families from being together?

Harriett Baldwin

I am glad that the hon. Lady welcomes the UK’s role, and I assure her that the UK has been fully engaged throughout the whole process since the United Nations agreed to move forward on this issue. We have been working on the wording and the direction of travel, to make sure that it is an agreement that can work for the whole world.

Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con)

Exactly what are we signing up to at Marrakesh?

Harriett Baldwin

We are signing up to the global compact on refugees. I should clarify for the House that it is a different document from the one that has perhaps generated more controversy: the global compact on migration.

Christine Jardine (Edinburgh West) (LD)

Following numerous political attacks, search-and-rescue vessels have found it difficult to operate in the Mediterranean. Given the death toll, which Médecins Sans Frontières reckons is approaching 1,300 people this year, what are the Government doing to support the non-governmental organisations that wish to provide search-and-rescue facilities in the Mediterranean sea?

Harriett Baldwin

The hon. Lady is right to raise this important issue. She will be aware that two Border Force cutters are in the area right at this moment. I know she will welcome the fact that over the course of the operation, UK naval assets have rescued more than 30,000 souls in the Mediterranean. Of course, we are doing further work in respect of the UK allocation, which so far has totalled some £175 million.

Rebecca Pow (Taunton Deane) (Con)

I recently attended a humbling and moving event in Taunton Deane to celebrate all the Syrian families—almost 20 of them—who ​have come to Somerset. Will the Minister join me in praising and thanking Taunton Welcomes Refugees, which is a model organisation? So many church people, individuals and council workers are involved in the organisation. It is just wonderful, and the families were so delighted. Will the Minister also please confirm our commitment to helping the most needy of Syrian refugees?

Harriett Baldwin

Mr Speaker, have you ever come across in this House a representative more passionate about her constituency than my hon. Friend? I am happy to endorse what she says and to endorse the work done in my county of Worcestershire. I inform the House that, nationally, the UK is well on track to achieving our commitment of 20,000 vulnerable people resettled in the UK by 2020. In fact, as of September, I understand that that total is now more than 15,000.

Mr Speaker

The Minister is absolutely right. I have learned more about Taunton Deane in the past three years than I knew for the previous 52—that is correct.

Rachel Reeves (Leeds West) (Lab)

Many refugees are fleeing religious persecution. The Archbishop of Canterbury has said that Christians in the middle east are on the brink of extinction, facing the worst crisis since the 13th century in the birthplace of Christianity. What are the Government doing to support Christians in the middle east and to grant asylum to those who are fleeing that persecution?

Harriett Baldwin

Well, indeed, it is a very sobering Christmas thought from the Archbishop of Canterbury. In fact, there are 25.4 million refugees worldwide, and the UK, of course, stands as one of the most significant supporters of refugees whatever their religious persuasion. There is a service in Westminster Abbey later today to which all colleagues are invited. I know that this is an important piece of work that the UK will remain steadfast in supporting.

Robert Courts (Witney) (Con)

Will my hon. Friend outline what new mental health support is being given to the children in Lebanon and Jordan who are affected so badly by the fighting that is ongoing in Syria?

Harriett Baldwin

Yes, if Mr Speaker will allow me to put on my other hat from the Department for International Development just very briefly, I will say to my hon. Friend that he will be aware that the Secretary of State for International Development recently announced a range of new programmes to provide support in what has been a neglected area in terms of the psycho-social support and mental health support that particularly children in refugee situations need.


Illegal Wildlife Trade

Damien Moore (Southport) (Con)

13. What steps the Government are taking with international partners to tackle the illegal wildlife trade. [907998]

The Minister for Africa (Harriett Baldwin)

We will continue to work with international partners to drive progress in tackling this terrible crime and deliver on ​the commitments made at October’s London conference. Some 57 countries have adopted the conference’s declaration so far.

Damien Moore

Will my hon. Friend update the House on the progress that is being made towards the Government’s target of halving the number of elephants killed for ivory by 2024?

Harriett Baldwin

We are leading from the front. As my hon. Friend knows, we are bringing in an ivory ban in the UK. We have formed a high-level political coalition, the Ivory Alliance 2024, and we are urging everyone to tackle something that is extremely urgent, because the number of African elephants has declined by 30% over the past seven years.

Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab)

May I ask the Minister, who will share all our concerns about this illegal wildlife trade, to redouble her efforts to get other countries involved as well as her own and to get international organisations involved? What has happened is deplorable, and the wildlife across this planet is disappearing before our eyes.

Harriett Baldwin

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his endorsement of the work, and we truly are working very energetically and vigorously, following the incredibly important and wide-ranging conference. As I say, 1,000 people attended it, and 57 countries have signed up to the declaration. We are encouraging everyone and leading by example with our ivory ban.


Economic and Diplomatic Relations: Africa

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con)

24. What progress the Government have made on strengthening economic and diplomatic relations with countries in Africa since the Prime Minister’s visit to that continent in August 2018. [908010]

The Minister for Africa (Harriett Baldwin)

Mr Speaker, congratulations on getting through the whole Order Paper.

We are opening posts in Chad, Niger, Eswatini, Lesotho and Djibouti and increasing the number of staff working on Africa by up to one third.

Jeremy Lefroy

With the African Union developing a continental free trade area, what additional resources are the Government putting into Addis Ababa to deal with the increasing opportunities for working with the African Union?

Harriett Baldwin

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of the African Union and its work in Addis Ababa. In the years to come, we will increase the number of posts working with the African Union by, I think, 12.

Topical Questions

Stephen Kerr (Stirling) (Con)

T2. What are the Government doing to work with the Nigerian Government to promote reconciliation between the Fulani herders and the villagers and farmers of the Middle Belt? [908012]

The Minister for Africa (Harriett Baldwin)

I know that my hon. Friend contributed to the Westminster Hall debate that took place last week, thanks to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and the Backbench Business Committee. In that, I outlined the way in which our high commission is working with not only the national Government, but the state Government and community and religious leaders, and offering its help to support reconciliation and mediation in this growing crisis.


Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con)

What assessment has the Minister for Africa made of the preparations for the forthcoming elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which are so vital?

Harriett Baldwin

I can share with the House that our assessment is that they are on track to take place, in accordance with the accord of Saint-Sylvestre, on 23 December. My hon. Friend will know that the UK has been very involved in funding 20,000 of the 60,000 election observers who will be there to observe the process.


Anna McMorrin (Cardiff North) (Lab)

My constituent, Mr Nkemgo, is from Cameroon. Many close members of his family have been shot and killed, and their villages have been burnt. What urgent action has the Secretary of State taken or will he take, and what does he say to my constituent?

Harriett Baldwin

I can say to the hon. Lady’s constituent that she is absolutely right to raise this very serious situation, that the UK Government are doing everything ​that they can to encourage the Government in Cameroon to engage in a dialogue with what has become an increasingly armed separatist movement. We are working with the United Nations on what further assistance can be given to the populations who are being displaced in this crisis.


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