Durkan raises Derry refugee concerns at Westminster

Foyle MP, Mark Durkan.
Foyle MP, Mark Durkan.

SDLP Foyle MP Mark Durkan has raised the widespread concerns of people in Derry over the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean at Westminster this week and the call for more Syrian refugees to be allowed to resettle in the UK and Ireland.

Speaking during a House of Commons debate on the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean, Mr Durkan said: “In debates many MPs touched on what prompted so many of our constituents (in Derry and elsewhere) to mobilise and get in touch with us. A little over a week after the media were full of the photographs of the Prime Minister on a beach in Cornwall, a different beach photograph emerged in the media. It brought out those words of Seamus Heaney about something having the ability to “catch the heart off guard and blow it open.”

“That is what that photograph of Aylan Kurdi did. It stirred our constituents and in turn seemed to spur the Prime Minister into altering his tone. But let us think about another Aylan who might arrive on a beach or somewhere else in Europe, having survived his perilous journey, but alone and unaccompanied. What is the message in the government’s response to that Aylan? “He is disqualified. He is outside our consideration.” We even heard from the Prime Minister today that, yes, we do have to take care as to what we do with unaccompanied children and how we treat them, but being careful is no reason not to show them care and consideration, which appears to be the government’s position. That needs to be revised, improved and altered.

“We need to recognise the scale of the whole humanitarian crisis and not concentrate just on those who are arriving in Europe. We have to meet our responsibilities in relation to those who have made it to Europe and in relation to the wider crisis.

“The government, having previously been averse to engaging with the UNHCR resettlement scheme, and then having been very dilatory in relation to the vulnerable persons scheme, have now moved to strike a tone of some urgency in this regard, but of course limits have been put on it – the Prime Minister appears to have put the guard up on his heart again.

“The government must be prepared to do more, but those of us who are criticising them for the number of refugees they will admit or on the time scale must face the wider question about the scale of the problem in the camps, about other conflicts, not least in Sudan and South Sudan, that are driving people into refugee status, and about the need for a much bigger and longer-term response.”

During a debate on the refugee crisis Foyle MP Mark Durkan said: “The Prime Minister talked about supporting these refugees in their hour of need, but how does that rhetoric chime with admitting only 20,000 over the course of five years, with overtones of disqualification for those who have already made perilous journeys and perhaps lost loved ones? Will the Prime Minister go further than merely having his Ministers having disparate conversations with First Ministers and will he, along with the Irish government, convene a special meeting of the British-Irish Council properly to co-ordinate the response for refugees across all the Administrations of these islands, taking account of their different service models, and to offer good partnership to international agencies and domestic charities that want to help?”

The Prime Minister replied: “I will look carefully at what the hon. Gentleman says. Obviously, what the Republic of Ireland does is a matter for the Republic of Ireland, if it wants to opt in to the relocation system. I am pretty confident that 20,000 refugees coming into Britain is, and will be seen to be by other European countries, a generous and compassionate offer that will help to take the pressure off other European countries.”