Foreign Secretary Speech - European Council Speech on Refugees
Foreign Secretary Graham Adiputera addressed a special summit of the European Council.
We meet today under tragic circumstances. We have all seen the appalling headlines and the horrific photos - a hundred men, women and children, dead at sea. So desperate to escape the horrors that have taken place at home that they are willing to make a highly perilous, deeply risky journey across the Mediterranean, often placing their trust in vile criminal gangs who care only about money. We meet today to make sure that we do all we can to prevent another such tragedy. To prevent the countless other tragedies that have, sadly, become common-place.
To help refugees is not a case of our hearts versus our heads. It is a case where compassionate policy and smart policy are one and the same. It is in all our interests to create a world where cooperation and dialogue are the norm, where we help each other rather than turn our backs on each other, where we understand that what is our neighbour’s problem today could be our problem tomorrow. There are many problems - such as extremism, such as violent and criminal non-state actors, such as terrorist networks - that do not respect borders, so our own solutions, while respecting of sovereignty and nationality, must incorporate an acceptance that we live in a globalised world. Likewise, there are many opportunities that exist in the world today that cannot be seized - certainly not optimally - by one country acting unilaterally.
There is a need to provide not just for refugee resettlement and sheltering, but for a long-term comprehensive strategy to improve the capability of the international community to handle refugee crises and forced migration flows in a humane and sustainable way. Improving conditions in refugee camps and settlement. Supporting those countries who have already taken in, or are currently hosting, disproportionate numbers of refugees. Providing for personal development for refugees - school supplies, good nutrition, building communities, teaching skills. And, in the long term, establishing mechanisms for both rebuilding communities and identifying and preparing for future refugee emergencies, in coordination with existing strategies on issues such as droughts, famine, climate change and conflict prevention.
The UK is committing, at a minimum, an additional £500 million a year to these efforts - on both immediate needs such as food, water and sanitation, and on those longer term structural goals. We will also be making matching fund payments, an in-kind 1:1 additional investment, for up to a total of £2 billion a year. We are committed to making this effort successful, of leveraging as much in the way of resources and expertise as is possible, of securing as wide an international buy-in as can be achieved. We hope that these efforts not only provide for a tangible improvement in living standards and future prospects for those caught up in the current crises, but a transition towards a more pragmatic, forward-thinking, compassionate refugee policy throughout Europe that is better built for the challenges of the 21st century.
What this tragedy has shown us is that the old way of responding to refugee crises - ad hoc, divided responses - is no longer suitable. It is no longer sustainable. It is unfair both for those fleeing danger and persecution and those who have the moral duty to help them. And so we hope that this expansive and ambitious programme will both help rectify the humanitarian crises that we are seeing now and strengthen our capability to respond to such moral calamities in the future.
Sadly, the Dublin Regulation is one part of this system that needs overhauling. There are, as I see it, two overriding concerns with the current system. Firstly, it insufficiently protects the right of the migrant. Secondly, it insufficiently spreads out the responsibilities involved and can put those countries on the geographic periphery of Europe - who are often the least economically developed nations, in the south and east of our continent - under immense strain. That is a recipe, I think, for disaster.
The notion that a refugee should settle in the first safe country of entry is, I think, a logical one, and there is something about that presumption that should be maintained - though of course, that presumption should be waived in the event there are extenuating circumstances, such as family in another member state or that migrant having skills that are of interest to another member state. But it must be balanced with the right to get a fair and prompt hearing of one’s claim, the right to be kept together with one’s family even if they arrive in different ports of entry, access to a sufficient level of services and protection, and the right to appeal any proposed transfers.
While the UK government’s preferred option would be a quota system, each country doing what it can, we understand that this is not viewed as acceptable by many member states. As a bare minimum, however, we must identify the limits that nations can be expected to, under current trajectories, be expected to bear and work out mechanisms for reallocating refugees when a nation has reached its capacities. We must review the existing rights refugees have under the Dublin regulation, and guarantee those rights that I have identified, of family unity, of fair and prompt hearings, of guaranteed to those essential capabilities, of a right to appeal any transfer.
In addition, the institutions of the European Union should provide extra structural funding to those nations that take in refugees, both whether in accordance with the Dublin regulation or by their own initiative. The purpose of this funding should be changing the narrative, from viewing refugees as merely extra costs on public services to being their own source of entrepreneurship and innovation.
The British government made a public commitment to taking in 250,000 refugees, to do its fair share and join that small club of nations, with the wherewithal and resources to do so, that strive to be ahead of the curve on this front. That we did not make a commitment of this kind earlier is, of course, regrettable. That we did not, at first, properly articulate how we would handle all the logistical questions raised by this commitment in a clear and consistent way, too, is regrettable. But we remain committed to welcoming refugees and doing our bit - hopefully in tandem with all other capable nations.
Finally, we must turn to the question of Mediterranean crossings. We need a European Union effort, with military and law enforcement resources and expertise being pooled, to fight people trafficking in the Mediterranean, mount search and rescue efforts, and fight the criminal gangs that are seeking to exploit this situation. This must consist of surveillance, assessment and monitoring of human trafficking and people smuggling networks; searching for and diverting suspicious vessels; and capturing and disposing of boats, ships and related assets, preferably before use, and the arrest and prosecution of those involved in people trafficking. We must also promote sharing of information about people trafficking between our nations and do what we can to build up suitable coastguard and naval capacity in North Africa. Again, the United Kingdom stands ready to commit what resources are needed to this effort.
Addressing the sources of these conflicts remains a crucial consideration and I hope to, over the course of meetings with my counterparts, develop a strategy for helping bring peace to troubled nations such as Libya.
On a concluding note, we must recognise that refugees are not a threat. They are not a burden. They are people who need help, people who need the kindness of humanity, but they are still people. And I sincerely believe that it is possible to unlock a refugee dividend for the host countries, where everyone benefits from innovation and entrepreneurship, while at the same time providing refugees not just with safety but dignity.
In summary, the Foreign Secretary’s proposals were:
- A new pan-European push to both provide immediate humanitarian relief and to address more structural concerns, such as supporting those countries that have taken in substantial migrant flows, rebuilding communities, and identifying and preparing for future refugee crises. The British commitment will be £500 million per year - up to £2 billion, through matching-fund payments.
- Reforms to the Dublin arrangement - while we prefer an outright quota system, we will accept a system where refugees are reallocated only once a certain national threshold has been met, with extra rights and protections in place for refugees.
- Extra structural funding for those European nations taking in refugees.
- A joint European operation to fight people trafficking and human smuggling in the Mediterranean.
Graham Adiputera (Lib Dem - Sutton and Cheam)
Deputy Prime Minister
Liberal Democrat Leader
Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Climate Change
Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Technology
Parliamentary - 36
Media - 53
Policy - 48
Received well by most European countries, who agree that more needs to be done in a coordinated way. You get some opposition from countries like Poland and Hungary, and there are other nations such as Italy and Greece which want you to do much, much more - but which are nonetheless grateful for *something*. Adiputera doesn't bestride the international stage nearly often enough, so it's good to see you out and about doing some diplomacy. Plays well at home, but remember that people aren't hugely keen on refugees as a concept. Sorry.
Labour Party Adviser
Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence Moderator