Vision, compassion and inspiration: Roger Roberts’ essential elements for immigration

Roger Roberts spoke in the House of Lords this week on resettling vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers.

Here is his speech:

I appreciate very much the opportunity to take part in the debate introduced by my noble friend Lord Scriven. We all know that, ultimately, the answer lies in Syria and the Middle East, and somehow bringing together a new understanding there. The whole area is the victim of history. Countries like ours, France, Turkey and now Russia want to impose the most individually advantageous solutions on this part of the world. The United Nations appears impotent in the face of so many vetoes and certain voices that cause great discontent and destruction, as we saw in Gaza in recent weeks.

Would it be possible to approach the Syrian conversation not by saying, “This is the policy we recommend; this is what we want to achieve”, but by saying instead, “This is the religious policy”; “This is the policy of the ethnic people”; “This is the political policy”? Somehow, we should try to get people to discuss the religious argument. The people of the various religious faiths should be able to talk together and bring something to light that is different. Can faith move mountains? I think it needs a chance.

The report we discuss today concerns how we in the United Kingdom can try to fulfil a historical obligation to ease the calamity that affects so many Syrians and so many others in the Middle East. We were among the nations that drew the boundaries of the countries of the Middle East, so I suggest we have a moral duty to help those who for many decades have been affected by our decisions. It has already been mentioned that the doorway to the UK for refugees is the Home Office. Over many weeks we have been saddened by reports on immigration matters: the Windrush generation, including a former mayoress in East Anglia, who have been here for 30 or 40 years and now face deportation; even a wealthy owner of a football club was not able to have his visa renewed—I hope it has happened by now. Hundreds of thousands of Home Office decisions have been overturned on appeal.

How can this situation be resolved? Do we start with the staff dealing with immigration; is that where the weakness lies? Many of them, remember, do everything they can to complete tasks which are often extremely complicated and difficult. We owe them a great deal. Is the weakness at a ministerial level? Who is leading and inspiring on the immigration question? Often, it seems that no one is leading or directing the team. Are Ministers themselves satisfied that the present system is fair, efficient and not really in need of improvement? The report on the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme includes at the very beginning different interpretations of the meaning of “vulnerable”. Who are the vulnerable? There is disagreement on the reliability of evidence to prove identity. There is the accusation that Home Office monitoring lacks depth and shade. Doubt is cast on the value of Home Office data, as we have already heard.

We sometimes complain that sufficient funds are not available to train, pay and expand the number of employees. But when we examine the budgets, as the report does, they are nearly always underspent. One year £29 million was budgeted but only £15.6 million was spent. Another year the budget was £98.5 million, of which £75 million was spent. Another year the budget was £113.7 million and only £66 million was spent. There is money there. In addition, in 2015 the Home Office had a budget of £36 million for exceptional costs. But the report says that by December 2017 only £2.4 million of that had been spent.

The report is unhappy with the extent of the search for direct information from refugees themselves. It states that the Home Office interviewed nine refugees and then met a refugee family from Amman. If anyone came to north Wales, they would meet more refugees than that. So we question whether there is enough data and evidence from the refugees themselves. The report damned,

“the absence of a national integration strategy”.

The pace of immigration settlement leaves a lot to be desired. The target was to settle several hundred Syrians over three years. But by September 2015 only 239 had been settled. That works out at 22 refugees a month. The civil war in Syria has lasted far longer than envisaged when David Cameron pledged that the UK would welcome 20,000 refugees by 2020. As the report says, there is no commitment to continue resettlement after that year or to increase the number from 20,000 to accommodate the extra years of civil war.

As has already been mentioned, it takes 35 weeks from acceptance on a resettlement scheme until the refugees are actually on a plane to the UK. Then they are given a two-day cultural orientation workshop. I suggest that some of the problems arise because the folk, many of whom do not speak English, are not given that introduction which is essential for them. Then there are the interviews and decisions. So many initial Home Office decisions are overturned. Currently the decision is made by one person. One move we could make to improve that immediately would be to have two people interviewing, as we do in many other organisations, so that they could help each other out and confer. There is money there in the budget. Having two people could avoid many wrong decisions.

We will have a new immigration Bill—I am sure the Minister is looking forward to it—which will give us the opportunity to put right much that is the cause of anxiety, confusion and poverty. In a world where we have 66 million displaced men, women and children, it is disgraceful if our one aim as a United Kingdom is to reduce the numbers welcomed here instead of leading at home and globally an attempt to give every vulnerable person a home. We can do better than that. Anyone who talks of sending them “back where they came from” to cities such Aleppo or Idlib is living in fantasy world. We have to adapt ourselves so we can be a welcoming country. Of course there will be difficulties but we can do something that will give hope to so many people who are in a situation that we are fortunate not to be in. More than anything else, we need a leadership on immigration matters that has vision, compassion and inspiration. With that sort of leadership, we might restore the hopes of the millions of people who have lost families, homes, education—everything. I suggest that this is our moral obligation.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Well said Roger!

  • Good analysis. I had not realised that the Home Office underspent by so much. the Tories always try to give the opposite impression. They really do not have an excuse for getting it wrong so often.
    The one thing that no one is discussing at the moment, is that the Middle East is one of the regions that is most vulnerable to climate change – in fact some who study such things would say that the continuous fighting in the area is likely to a be a symptom of competition for increasingly scarce resources. (Water is a factor, it is not all about oil or religion.)
    A rough “back of an envelope” calculation suggests that the UK can expect to receive a million climate change migrants from Commonwealth (or ex- Empire) countries over the next 20 years. Immigration is not going to go away. And we had better learn to welcome people into our communities properly.
    The present Home Office bad practice does no one any favours in the long run. Politicians better wake up to the fact that we cannot reduce immigration. People will have to go somewhere, or die. We are a rich country that will still be habitable after many are not. It is a stark choice, with only one practical answer.

  • Suzanne Fletcher 10th Jun '18 - 11:04pm

    The bit I particularly like is ” The people of the various religious faiths should be able to talk together and bring something to light that is different. Can faith move mountains? I think it needs a chance.”
    Done a bit on the whole debate in latest Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary newsletter going out any day now (when pesky GDPR things sorted)

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