I was unable to attend the Parliamentary debate this week on Syrian refugees, but I was happy to hear my colleague Melanie Onn, MP for Great Grimsby, use my early-day motion (EDM) to directly question the Prime Minister and challenge the government over its handling of the refugee crisis.
I first tabled EDM 99: Refugees crossing the Mediterranean and Mare Nostrum in June and I’m delighted it has now been signed by 85 MPs. (You can read my original post about it). It urges the Prime Minister to ‘recognise the fatal impact of the decision in October 2014 to cancel Operation Mare Nostrum, resulting in the loss of thousands of lives of desperate refugees.’ It also calls on him to review urgently the numbers of places available in the UK for refugees.
Speaking in the Syrian refugee debate on Monday, Melanie Onn MP asked the Prime Minister: “Back in June my honourable friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) tabled an early-day motion on Operation Mare Nostrum. That operation was estimated to have saved the lives of half a million refugees in the Mediterranean area, but the Government cancelled it, saying that it was a pull factor. Does the Prime Minister regret cancelling it? Is it time to reinstate it?”
This was a useful challenge to the government in the light of recent events. Despite a recent change of tone by the government in response to this humanitarian crisis, several of its actions over the past few months have made it so much harder for those fleeing violence, persecution and suffering. These include the disastrous cancellation of Operation Mare Nostrum; the welcoming of a mere 216 Syrian refugees under the vulnerable persons relocation scheme; the decision to opt out of an EU agreement to relocate refugees across member states; the use of unhelpful language; and the reduction in cash allowances for asylum seekers, rushed through in August, now causing huge hardship for those already in the UK.
I do welcome the fact the government has now bowed to public pressure and acknowledged Britain needs to do more. But its plan still falls far short of what is needed for Britain to fulfil its duty.
(In his reply to Melanie in Parliament, the Prime Minister said other member states had also made the decision about Mare Nostrum and the government had deployed ‘the flagship of the Royal Navy’ instead.)
You can find the full text of the EDM, with signatories, here: