This week Parliament has returned after the summer recess. It’s been a busy few weeks and a very welcome opportunity to spend even more time in Swindon, talking to fellow residents, meeting community groups and attending a large number of local events. In the last week, the agenda has been dominated by the refugee crisis, and I have been in touch with many of you who have contacted me.
Most of us will have seen the appalling images of the death of one little boy who was travelling with his family in an unseaworthy boat from Turkey to Greece. Anyone who saw those pictures could not help but be deeply moved, whether or not we happen to be parents. Emotions are running very high at present for understandable reasons, but our policy has to be a balanced one, bearing in mind the existing migration pressures that face us. I wrote recently in the Advertiser about the need for the UK to firmly maintain and improve immigration controls.
There is, however, a real dilemma that has faced us in the past and is now confronting us again. As a nation I believe that we have a moral responsibility to those in desperate need of help. The Somali-British poet Warsan Shire once wrote in relation to refugees, “that no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.” Very sadly, there are people smugglers and human traffickers who are all too ready to prey on people and who do not care about the welfare of others. It is these criminals who are directly causing the deaths of thousands of people, including the young boy in the photograph. That’s why we have sent the Royal Navy to the Mediterranean, saving thousands of lives; why we meet our commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of our economy on aid; why Britain is the second biggest bilateral donor in the world to Syrian refugee camps; and why we are taking thousands of Syrian refugees – which we’ll continue to do and keep under review. Further to this we are maintaining a task force to support the Italian-led search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean. To that end, HMS Enterprise remains in the Mediterranean with supporting Border Force cutters and, together with the previously deployed HMS Bulwark, have rescued more than 6,700 people.
We need a comprehensive solution that tackles the problem at its source and which deals with the people most responsible for it. President Assad in Syria, the butchers of ISIL, and the criminal gangs that are running this terrible trade in people must be held accountable for their actions in addition to restoring safety and peace in the homes of these refugees. I don't think that a long and dangerous journey of thousands of miles into Europe is good for the welfare of refugees either,which is why I support the Government's resettlement plans for up to 20,000 Syrian refugees over the course of this parliament. The refugees will be taken directly from the camps in the Middle East to discourage Syrians from risking the hazardous journey across the Mediterranean. There will be an increase in our Syrian Vulnerable Person Relocation scheme which since January 2014 has resettled 216 people, in addition to the nearly 5,000 Syrians that have been granted asylum through normal procedures. This approach is similar to the one we took to towards the children of Jewish families fleeing persecution in the 1930's or the Vietnamese Boat People thirty years ago.
Whilst there is no quick solution to this, the UK has allocated £1 billion in aid to the Syrian refugee camps since 2012, making us the second largest donor in the world, behind the United States. This is helping to meet the immediate needs of vulnerable people in Syria and refugees across the region and to March 2015 the UK has provided over 18 million rations of food according to the UN. Britain is taking a lead and playing its part in dealing with this humanitarian crisis.
I also hosted another advice surgery at my offices in Wood Street on Friday and discussed many issues, including the refugee crisis with some of my constituents. Please get in touch with my office on 01793 533393 if you would like to arrange a time to come and talk to me about local or national issues.