Welcome more refugees

I have been contacted by many constituents recently about the need for the UK to welcome more refugees. 

Concerns have been raised over the current family reunion criteria for refugees and those with humanitarian protection status in the UK, and about whether these criteria may be keeping families apart.  As you may be aware, the Government's Immigration Bill returned to the House of Commons on 1st December for its Report Stage and Third Reading, and I know that organisations such as Refugee Council called for the Bill to be amended to extend the refugee family reunion criteria.

I hope that it will reassure you to know that my colleagues in the Shadow Home Office Team tabled an amendment to the Immigration Bill which would have required a review of the existing refugee family reunion rules. The review would have had to consider options for extending the criteria for family reunion, as well as the failure to implement Dublin Convention III, which allows for spouses or children under 18 with refugee status or those granted humanitarian protection to be reunited with family members in the UK.  Unfortunately, the Government has stated that they do not have any plans to widen the current family reunion criteria. I hope, however, that they will look at this again.

Overall, I believe that the Government's Immigration Bill is disproportionate and divisive and that it will not reduce illegal immigration, which the Government state it is intended to do. Instead, I fear it will lead to reduced social cohesion, widespread discrimination and the punishment of the children of illegal immigrants for their parents' actions. It is for these reasons that I voted against the Immigration Bill at its Third Reading in the House of Commons on 1st December, but the Bill passed through with the support of Government MPs.

More widely, I welcome the Government's commitment to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees in the UK over the next five years. Indeed, Britain has a long, proud history of providing sanctuary for those fleeing persecution. However, this is now the greatest refugee crisis that we have seen since the Second World War and I do not believe that the Government's plans are anywhere near equal to the scale of this humanitarian catastrophe.

Recently the Government responded to an Urgent Question in the House of Commons asking for a statement on child refugees in Europe.  The thought of any child alone in a foreign country facing dangerous conditions – without food, warmth or protection – is genuinely terrifying. But in what is now the biggest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War, this is sadly the reality for thousands of Syrian children and those fleeing other conflicts. There are 26,000 unaccompanied children in Europe today. These children are highly vulnerable to trafficking, prostitution and other forms of abuse, and urgently need assistance.

I am pleased that the Government have listened since this issue was raised but, as we know, their current policy is to take refugees from camps in the region, rather than those who have already crossed the sea. I do not believe that the Government can continue to draw the false distinction between refugees in the region and refugees in Europe. As this crisis develops, that distinction is becoming harder to maintain. Both are desperate and both need our help, and the Government should consider children who are here in Europe, as well as those who are in the camps in the region.

Hilary Benn
MP for Leeds Central

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