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Debate on Forced Displacement in Africa

4th July 2019

Harriett Baldwin responds on behalf of the Government to a debate on the International Development Committee Report ‘Forced displacement in Africa: Anchors not walls’.

The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Harriett Baldwin)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans, particularly as you are a member of the International Development Committee. I congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) on securing the debate and thank his Committee, through him, for having written a very good report on an issue that is too often overlooked. The report has shone a strong spotlight on it. The debate allowed us to raise some issues considered in the report and to cover the Government’s response. I was glad that we were able to fully accept 22 of the report’s 34 recommendations and partially accept a further nine. In fact, we disagreed with only three, two of which were for the Home Office, while one was a cross-Government matter. I will try to respond to the range of points made in this wide-ranging debate.

The Government fully recognise the scale of the issue, and I hope in my remarks to outline what we are doing not only in our country but, in terms of my responsibilities, across Africa. As I said when I gave evidence to the Committee, we take a needs-based approach to humanitarian issues, so the difference between refugees and internally displaced people is not one that we formally recognise. Legally, of course, there is a difference when we are evaluating the need, so we stand ready to help both internally displaced people and refugees, as I hope I made clear to the Committee.

The point about sexual exploitation was well made. I reassure hon. Members, as I did earlier this week, that in the light of the allegations made in The Times last ​week, we have checked and ensured that that was not a DFID-funded programme. However, as that example highlights, there can be no let-up in our work to ensure that the highest standards are maintained by the industry and that we get commitments from all our suppliers.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby keeps tempting me on Education Cannot Wait. I am particularly tempted because I do not know whether I will be able to go to the UN General Assembly later this year—I hope I will. He knows that I share the enthusiasm of the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) for the “Send my friend to school” campaign, which connects young people with the right of young people all around the world to go to school. No one could be more committed than I am to the cause of education in emergencies, education for girls and the power of education to make the world a better place in the 21st century. We have announced that we will continue to be one of the leading donors to Education Cannot Wait. As the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby will know, the amount is not yet finalised or announced.

The hon. Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) also raised the importance of education and girls’ education. Not everyone knows that Boko Haram basically translates to “Western education is evil”, which shows how it is feared and how powerful education is for the cultural reasons that she outlined, as well as for the economic impact it can have. Every year someone spends in school adds 10% to their lifetime earnings.

I assure the hon. Lady that we are doing everything we can to encourage the newly re-elected Nigerian Government to tackle the challenges in north-east Nigeria. It was tempting for them to say in the run-up to the election, “Look, we’ve solved the problem. Everything’s okay.” We all recognise that it is not okay. Our North East Nigeria to Transition to Development programme is our top programme in Nigeria and is worth £85.9 million. I assure her that the problems around the Lake Chad basin are at the forefront of our agenda.

The hon. Lady will know that near Rann, many refugees were chased over the border into northern Cameroon and that there was a process of refoulement to take them back to Nigeria. We were able to intervene with the Cameroonian Government to say, “That is not how you treat refugees.”

That brings me to how refugees are treated. Everyone cited the great example of Uganda, which is exemplary. I want to say for the record, though, that in the UK refugees can work from day one. It is important to make the distinction, however, between refugees and those who seek asylum, which is a route often used by people who come as economic migrants. I hope we can all agree that irregular migration, where people risk their lives and those of their families crossing the Mediterranean, doing incredibly dangerous things and putting themselves in the hands of people smugglers, is not something that we can encourage or incentivise. Global compacts are valuable in outlining our desire to regularise such paths, and asylum seeking is clearly an area where there can be and has been abuse. That is why we are careful that, only once 12 months of delay has occurred—through no fault of the person claiming asylum—can they then work in shortage occupations. The Home Secretary has committed to keep that area under review, but I want to make that distinction because I do not think the general public always understands it.​

I hope the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby saw the announcement we made on World Refugee day about our approach post 2020, when we will merge all schemes into a single scheme, which will enable us in the first year to offer 5,000 places to refugees. He will be aware that that number is an increase and that the numbers of people coming in under the schemes are ahead of the commitments we have made. I will give Members an update.

In terms of the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, the most recent data shows that, against our commitment of 20,000 by 2020, we will be at nearly 16,000 by the end of the first quarter. The gateway protection scheme is for 750 people a year. As of March, 9,427 people have come under that scheme, including 762 this year. The mandate scheme has no specific annual commitment, but as of March 2019, 423 people had been resettled. Some 1,410 have been resettled under the vulnerable children’s settlement scheme, against a commitment of up to 3,000 by 2020, including 687 in the year to March 2019. In total that is 23,000, plus about 750 per financial year. It is important to note that we very much welcome community sponsorship schemes, and the numbers for those can be counted in addition.

I mentioned the latest on Sudan in my earlier intervention, and it was important to get that on the record. Libya was also raised.

Stephen Twigg

I welcome what has been said about resettlement. Can I ask her, as the Minister for Africa, to liaise between the Foreign Office and the Home Office to look at the options for refugees from sub-Saharan Africa, particularly those with vulnerabilities? One of the strengths of the Syrian scheme was that it recognised that there are certain minorities, for example disabled people, who particularly benefit from the chance to come here. Could we look at something similar for sub-Saharan Africa?

Harriett Baldwi

I know that the hon. Gentleman’s recommendation was for a specific quota. From 2020 onwards, rather than focusing on a particular country, that is widened to one global scheme, without specific target numbers for particular areas. That widens things geographically and addresses some of what he is looking for.

On Libya, at the United Nations Security Council yesterday, we tried to get condemnation for the attack on the detention centre, as Members will have seen. I want to say for the record that neither the UK Government nor the European Union fund Libyan detention centres—there is sometimes the allegation that we do. We fund humanitarian programmes, and with humanitarian programmes, the principle of doing no harm is observed. I want to reassure Members that we properly apply risk assessment mitigation and monitoring to all the programming in Libya.

On the debt versus grant point, the vast majority of what we do is through grants, so we do a lot of grant funding. The World Bank programme is additional. It is debt-financing and it is extremely concessional, but it is a welcome additional layer of support, coming on top of the grant funding that we already do.

I pay tribute to the wonderful Scotland-Malawi partnership. It was great to hear about the specific work to help girls to stay in school. When I was in Malawi, I ​met some of the young women who walk miles every day to go to school, and miles again at the end of the day, who were thoroughly enjoying being able to stay in school for so much longer. I will take back the point that the hon. Member for Aberdeen North raised about the wording on women returning “wealthy from prostitution” on Government websites. I will look into that and see if we can get it erased.

The hon. Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) spoke of how climate change is exacerbating the situation. It is doing so in the Lake Chad basin, which has been dramatically reduced. It is clearly exacerbating the movement between herders and pastoralists in central Nigeria, which has been an area of terrible conflict, and other things across the whole of the Sahel—Darfur was also mentioned. That is why we are stepping up what we are doing not only on climate, but also in the Sahel. There is more that we can do on the use of things we have invented, such as more drought-resistant millet, and there are different interventions with trees that can make a difference. There is always scope for us to scale up what we are doing to tackle these issues.

The Grand Bargain was mentioned. We have committed to do more through medium-term funding and funding that is not earmarked for specific projects, and that is meeting our side of the Grand Bargain.

I cannot say who is going to go in December, but there will be good UK representation. I have also noted down voluntary returns—the UK position will always be that all returns for refugees should be voluntary.

I think I have touched on all the recommendations and on the cases where we did not agree with the recommendations. I hope I have clarified the position on refugees having immediate access to the labour market in the UK, I hope I have highlighted the offer that we have made for the post-2020 refugee resettlement offer, which is an increase, and I hope that we can all agree, as politicians, that this is about balance. Were we to do what the German Chancellor did a few years ago, I think that might very well undermine the welcome that refugees across the UK get as part of this resettlement scheme. There is certainly a really strong welcome across my constituency, and I hope that is the same in other hon. Members’ constituencies. It is about balance and also not creating incentives for people to risk their lives through irregular migration routes.

The overarching strategic framework, which hon. Members asked about, is obviously the sustainable development goals. It is about peace and making sure that we work to resolve conflict. It is about people and making sure that their human capital is developed. It is about making sure that we save our planet. It is about making sure that we work in partnership with all the organisations mentioned, including Education Cannot Wait—I give a shout-out to the global fund for education in emergencies, which is hosted by UNICEF, as we often fund through that as well. It is about prosperity and making sure that the progress that the world has made on reducing extreme poverty continues into the future.

I assure hon. Members that these are important issues that are at the heart of the Department for International Development’s work. Through the global compact for migration and the global compact on refugees, we have ​a global framework to work together on; it is cohesive and forms a good, forward-leaning framework. The UK can be very proud of what we are doing. We do more than just practise what we preach; we also help others and we can all be very proud of that.

I conclude by thanking the Select Committee for its report, and we will get on with implementing the recommendations we accept.


Harriett says...

Harriett Baldwin
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