Yvette Cooper MP

Working hard for Normanton, Pontefract, Castleford & Knottingley

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Urgent Question to the Home Secretary on the Syrian Refugee Crisis

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Mr Speaker, I'm sorry that the Home Secretary has not come to respond on such a serious issue.

When the House opposed military intervention in Syria, all sides were adamant that we had even greater moral obligation to provide humanitarian support in this dreadful conflict.

The position is now desperate.

2 million refugees have fled their country. Over half of them are children.

[The UN High Commissioner has said, “The tide of human suffering unleashed by the conflict has catastrophic implications.”]

Most of the support is rightly being provided in the region, particularly by Syria’s neighbours. And Britain has led the way –through Government aid and the generosity of the British people – in providing outside help.

But we have also been asked by the UN to join their programme to help the most vulnerable refugees of all.

I have spoken to the UN this morning.

This programme is for those who they believe will find it hardest to survive in the camps in the region. Abandoned children who have no other protection or support. Torture victims who may be suffering immense physical and mental distress. Those who need urgent medical help. Mothers of young children who have lost their husbands and relatives and are vulnerable. Those who have been abused in the camps.

They are not asylum seekers. They cannot travel themselves to apply for asylum here or elsewhere.

They are already UN certified refugees.

Other countries have agreed to help. France, Spain, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, even Luxemburg and Moldova, Australia, Canada, the USA. All these countries have offered places, taking the UN well on their way towards their target. Britain is only being asked to provide limited help as part of the wider programme.

But the Government has refused.

The Chairman of the Conservative Party described the programme as tokenistic

It won’t feel tokenistic to a desperate refugee or a child given a home.

The Minister has dismissed this in favour of regional support. But it isn’t an either/or. As every other major western country understands.

Some vulnerable refugees will need a different kind of help.

This is not about border control. Nor is it about immigration policy. It is about our long tradition of sanctuary.

How can we ask Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon to keep their borders open, to keep helping millions of people, if Britain won’t even do its bit for a few hundred of the most vulnerable? Or if we won’t even take in those with British relatives who are desperate to help?

Charities like Oxfam and Save the Children are urging us to act. 

It would be shameful for Britain to refuse.

So will he tell the Home Secretary not to turn her back on vulnerable refugees?

Will he tell her to look urgently now at how many places Britain can provide?

The Prime Minister said; ”We should encourage other countries to step up to the plate… “ And we must “fulfill our moral obligations to those people who will suffer.”

He’s exactly right. This is a moral obligation. How can we encourage others if we don’t act.

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