Bishop of St Albans urges commitment to international responses to refugee displacement

On 6th January 2022, the House of Lords debated the issue of mass refugee displacement. The Bishop of St Albans spoke in the debate, stressing the importance of a global response to help refugees and displaced people and address the causes of displacement:

The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for initiating this most important debate and for his excellent introduction, which has set the scene for us all.

We face not a static situation but one that is constantly changing. Since the start of 2020, we have seen the re-emergence of conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, bringing back the displacement that characterised the conflicts in the 1980s and 1990s. Ethiopia’s ongoing civil conflict has left just over 2 million internally displaced people in Tigray and a further 250,000 in the region of Amhara, according to the UN. We have seen the military coup in Myanmar, which has done nothing to improve—indeed, it has made worse—any prospect of resettling the estimated 745,000 beleaguered Rohingya Muslims resident in Cox’s Bazar, now the world’s largest refugee camp.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, rightly calls for an urgent international response. That surely must be rooted above all in recapturing the vision behind the UN and the need for international law. Anything less than that will fail in delivering what is so urgently needed. That is what we need in the long run, and it will require global Britain to give a strong moral lead, as well as playing its own part in trade and other aspects of our world. In addition, therefore, we need to restore urgently our international aid budget. It is shameful that, at a time when the world faces such incredible problems, we have pulled back from what was actually a very modest contribution we were making. I know others will pick up on this later, but I believe this is fundamental.

We need to use those international budgets carefully, of course. We all know that there are cases in which money has not been used wisely. I am absolutely convinced that the most important thing we can do is to provide grass-roots training, education, health work and the development of low-tech, sustainable industries that will remain there even when countries go through famines, wars and so on. We need to use them carefully, but our international aid budgets are a fundamental part of this.

Secondly, it will require global Britain to act consistently in response to situations where there are causes of mass migrations. This means that in certain situations we may need, with partners, to boycott some international sporting events. I know that some people say these are just small symbols, but they are powerful symbols to a world where such dreadful suffering is going on. It certainly means that we need to use Magnitsky sanctions judiciously, where appropriate, to signal to the international community when the actions of Governments are simply unacceptable. The trouble with this is that it will be costly for us and affect some of our international trade.

Thirdly—I do not need to say so much about this as the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, put it so eloquently—we need to engage with businesses working internationally, some of which are quite blatantly not living up to the values they have spelt out as the basis of their work.

Lastly, we need to engage with charities and religious bodies, many of which have access to the grass-roots communities that Governments and the UN do not. Our efforts will fail unless we can pull together a strong, consistent, comprehensive approach drawing on a wide group of stakeholders.


Extracts from the speeches that followed:

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con, Foreign Office): It is clear that the international community has an immense and growing task on its hands to support those driven from their homes. I am going to set out some of the actions that the UK Government have taken to address this crisis and outline our work to tackle its root causes.

The UK has a strong track record of helping those who need our protection and assistance, as well as the host communities that give them sanctuary. Despite the seismic impact of the pandemic on the UK economy, the Government remain one of the largest donors in the world. Indeed, we spent more than £10 billion on overseas development assistance last year, making us the third-largest donor in the G7. In answer to comments made by a number of noble Lords, not least the noble Lords, Lord Hannay, Lord Dubs and Lord Purvis, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, Parliament has endorsed a clear pathway to return to 0.7%, which, on current projections, will be by 2024-25. I do not think it is out of place to say that there is a strong feeling that, as soon as those conditions are met, we must immediately return to 0.7%.

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