By Gordon Brown
First posted by The Guardian, 9th September 2015
If the tiny, lifeless body of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old boy whose body washed on to a beach in Turkey, has finally shamed Europe into offering sanctuary to Syrian refugees, just what will it take to shock the entire world into dealing with a problem 100 times bigger?
While the European commission still struggles to find agreement on a quota of 40,000 refugees, there are 4 million Syrians holed up in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon desperate for food, shelter, healthcare and schooling for their children.
The 1.1 million Syrians now in Lebanon have increased the country’s 4.5 million-strong population by one quarter. It is the equivalent of 16 million refugees descending on Britain’s shores or 80 million crossing the border into the United States. The impact of that in either country would be almost unthinkable.
“Why have you abandoned us?” a Syrian refugee girl desperate to go to school challenged me when I recently visited a Beirut refugee centre, where hundreds of mothers and their children were crowded into one room.
There I met 10-year-olds working in factories for wages that cover only a roof over their heads, girls who had been living on the streets at risk of being trafficked, and girls of 12, 13 and 14 who feared being forced into early marriage.
Most families were living in shacks, and many looked as if they were going without basic nutrition. Their healthcare needs were barely being met. But for the mothers, some three and four years into their exile, their critical and repeated question was: “How can my children get an education?”
No government should truly be asked to absorb what has been forced on an already troubled and divided Lebanon, but to his country’s great credit the Lebanese education minister wants to offer a school place to every single refugee child.
The plan is quite simple and involves operating double shifts in their schools, which is possible because the refugees are spread right across the country. In the morning and early afternoon, Lebanese children will be taught in French and English. In the afternoon and early evening, in the same classroom, Syrian children are taught in Arabic.
In the past year, thanks to fundraising around the world, 105,000 refugee children have been enrolled for school. In the new term, starting just a few days from now, enough has been raised to educate 140,000. But we need to cater for 510,000 children in Lebanon, at least 215,000 in Jordan, and upwards of 400,000 in Turkey.
What is missing is not the classrooms or the trained teachers but the money to pay for them. For $500 a year, or $10 a child each week, we can provide school places that would allow parents and children to do what they would prefer to do – to stay in the region.
And so, while the crisis may seem overwhelming, we need not be overwhelmed; and in reply to those who ask, “What can we do?” we can point to a detailed plan, to be unveiled at the UN later this month, which starts by taking 1 million child refugees off the streets. I will ask the international community to build on the $100m we have already raised with another $250m immediately.
Over the past few days, I have consulted King Abdullah of Jordan, the Lebanese and Turkish governments and Tony Lake of Unicef. In the next few days, at the invitation of the Lebanese government, I will visit Beirut again.
To its credit, the UK government has already given £20m to this plan. But it runs counter to its, and Europe’s, interests to cut the international aid budget in this troubled region as Britain tries to cover the new costs of refugee support within the UK. Instead we should be increasing it, so that parents don’t think the only chance of a future for their families is sailing out in flimsy boats on death voyages but are assured there is support much closer to home.
We have to provide both a home for refugees here and help for the millions struggling for survival on Syria’s borders. And cutting international development aid to the region would be counterproductive. It would not solve the problem but exacerbate it, forcing more to leave; and it would cost more.
Eglantyne Jebb, who started Save the Children to help child refugees after the first world war, said the only international language the world understands is the cry of a child. But from her own experience of visiting neglected orphans, the author JK Rowling feared that: “No one is easier to silence than a child.”
In the next few weeks we will find out whether, instead of becoming the lost generation, millions of children will finally be heard.
By Mary Creagh
First published in The Guardian, 8th September
I am in Lebanon with Birmingham-based charity Islamic Relief to see the frontline of the refugee crisis. All summer there have been daily reminders of the greatest refugee crisis since the second world war. The harrowing picture of Syrian toddler Alan al-Kurdi, lying lifeless on the beach close to Bodrum in Turkey, reminded the world of the experience of millions of people escaping conflict in Syria and Libya.
Every day brings new tales of horror. People fleeing death at the hands of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, and Islamic State are dying needlessly because of the west’s indifference and inertia. In Lebanon’s refugee camps I met families who have fled Assad’s barrel bombs and Isis’s terror.
The Assad regime imprisoned Iman, a 65-year-old grandmother from Aleppo, for more than two weeks. She told me how she had bravely returned to Syria after her son was killed, to rescue her five grandchildren. They now live together in a shack made of breeze blocks, cardboard and plastic sheeting on rocky land.
Hadia’s husband, a Red Cross volunteer, was killed in Syria. Four of her children are still trapped in Homs. The UN had offered to take her and her younger children to Germany. She refused to leave because her mother could not go with her.
I met Imad, who lost an eye when terrorists blew up the Baghdad cafe where he worked.
At a Baptist church north of Beirut, it was humbling to see Islamic and Christian charities working together to help Christians in need. Yousif told me the story of how he fled Mosul with his four children when Isis took over the city.
I promised these refugees I would share their stories to help people in Britain understand why they had fled their homes. They are refugees, not economic migrants.
Towards the end of 2014, Lebanon took in 10,000 Syrian refugees a day. That means every two days the country was offering shelter to as many refugees as David Cameron wants to take in five years.
Britain has a proud history of giving sanctuary to people fleeing persecution. In the 1930s, Britain took in 70,000 Jewish people. During the Balkans conflict we offered shelter to 2,500 Bosnians and 4,000 Kosovar Albanians. We must honour that legacy.
Cameron’s promise to take 20,000 refugees is a welcome U-turn. But it does not match up to the scale of the crisis we are facing. His five-year timescale is simply too long for desperate people to wait. More than 4 million Syrians have left their homes and crossed the border – with more than 1 million in Lebanon alone. Another 7.6 million have been internally displaced.
The UK government is failing to engage with the crisis on our doorstep – countries such as Hungary, Italy and Greece are struggling to cope with the number of refugees arriving. Britain has a responsibility to offer support – including taking some of the refugees who are already in southern and eastern Europe. It needs to urgently bring together local authorities and NGOs to work out a plan for accommodating Syrian refugees.
There has been an outpouring of sympathy from the British public. The government needs to show real leadership and step up to its responsibilities. Having escaped Assad and Isis, the refugees I met deserve a second chance at life.
It’s time to act. Cities and towns across Britain are ready to make refugees welcome. The Prime Minister should no longer stand in their way.
by LCID Vice-President Alison McGovern MP
Sometimes people find themselves doing things that would have seemed impossible only a short time before.
A mother, clambering onto a rickety boat in the pitch black, clutching a child. A father giving the last of his family’s possessions for a single train ticket. What must a person have to go through before the impossible becomes the inevitable?
It is a question for us as well, and for our Government.
When I asked the Prime Minister in June about vulnerable Syrian refugees, David Cameron said he was convinced that we as a nation had fulfilled our moral obligations.
As late as July the talk was of more dogs and higher fences. Just a few days ago we woke up to dead children on a Turkish beaches and Ministers were still mouthing platitudes about ‘working with partners’.
Now it seems that the awful scenes across Europe and the Mediterranean have brought a change of heart from our Prime Minister with his announcement that the UK will take an extra 20,000 refugees over the next five years.
This is a start but it does not go far enough. People need our help now, not in five years time.
Other countries across Europe are rising to the challenge and welcoming refugees. The German state of Baden-Wuttemberg has even come to a special arrangement to take thousands of Kurdish refugees directly from their homeland, bypassing the normal asylum process. This localised approach is one we should look at here too if our Government does not go far enough. I know there are towns and cities across the country that would step forward to play their part if given the chance.
The inaction of our Government in the face of this tragedy shamed our whole nation. As Yvette Cooper argued so strongly last week, this is simply not the British way. Despite the repeated assertions, it is clear that we are far from taking our ‘fair share’ of refugees.
Our fair share. Nothing about this situation is fair if you are a child caught up in conflict. There is nothing fair about losing all chance of an education or living a normal life. There is nothing fair about running for your life, only to find the door to sanctuary closed in front of you.
We must help.
The Government needs to get a grip. Hand-wringing and excuses will simply not cut it any longer, there needs to be a tangible plan put in place to start taking in the refugees as soon as possible. The Prime Minister should also commit to excluding refugees from his migration targets as a step towards breaking the insidious coupling of humanitarian aid and immigration in the public consciousness.
This has gone far beyond any concerns about immigration caps or quotas. It is a moral obligation, not a political calculation.
In 1623, one of our greatest British poets, John Donne, wrote that “No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the Main” but he might as well have written that for us right now.
It’s time to act. Cities and towns across Britain are ready to make refugees welcome. The Prime Minister should no longer stand in their way.
First posted on The Labour Party Facebook page, 3rd September 2015.
Dear Prime Minister,
I am writing to you with regard to the worsening refugee crisis in Europe, and in particular your statement that you do not believe taking a few thousand refugees would solve the crisis.
This is now the worst humanitarian crisis to reach European shores since the Second World War. And its impact is being felt right across our country, from transport delays to small businesses being affected, not to mention widespread public concern about the crisis. You will, like me, have been appalled by the deeply distressing pictures of children drowned, and heard the stories of people suffocated to death in smugglers’ lorries.
We are all proud of Britain’s historical role of offering a sanctuary to those fleeing conflict and persecution. We are an outward-facing, generous-hearted nation, not one that turns inward and shirks its responsibilities. I know you will not want to be the Prime Minister of a Government that fails to offer sanctuary while our neighbours are stepping up to respond.
I disagree with the conclusion you appear to have drawn, that there is somehow a choice to be made between building stability in the region through greater humanitarian support, and playing our part in helping desperate refugees who have fled the horror in Syria. There isn’t. I strongly support the Government’s continued aid for the refugee camps in the region and agree with you that we need much tougher action against people trafficking, but it is clear now that we also have a moral duty to act to take in more of these people and help them to rebuild their lives.
As you know, Labour has been calling on the government to do more to help Syrian refugees for over 18 months, having first raised the issue in December 2013 and we also included a commitment to support Syrian refugees in our manifesto. It is now time for you to end the inertia and delay, and show some moral leadership and take proper action to alleviate this crisis.
Following the intervention of the Shadow Home Secretary, many local councils are looking now at what they could do to help. So too are community organisations. There is now a growing consensus that immigration and asylum should be separated and that whatever their views on immigration, they want Britain to do our bit to help refugees.
I am therefore asking you to do four things as a matter of urgency:
– To agree now that Britain will take more refugees both directly from Syria and from the Southern European countries where most refugees have arrived
– To convene an urgent meeting of EU leaders next week to agree a process for resolving the immediate refugee crisis on Europe’s borders
– To convene an urgent meeting of COBRA so that a cross-government plan can be agreed and implemented. This is now a problem that spans beyond the Home Office, affecting transport, small business, tourism and our local communities. We urgently need ministers to come together and agree a plan
– To bring together a summit of local authority leaders to agree what more can be done locally to support refugees and asylum seekers – as you know many councils are keen to do more, but lack an agreed framework for doing so.
I urge you to act swiftly and decisively. If you do so, please be assured that Labour stands ready to support you in any way we can. I look forward to your urgent response and, given the importance of this issue, I am releasing this letter to the media.
Rt Hon Harriet Harman MP
Leader of the Labour Party
By Stephen Doughty MP, LCID Honorary Vice-President
Exactly ten years ago, a quarter of a million people marched through the streets of Edinburgh calling on the G8 to Make Poverty History, and millions joined their call at Live 8 concerts around the world.
As a young campaigner, I was part of the team who helped bring together the historic human white band around the Scottish capital and watched in awe as people streamed into The Meadows in solidarity from across the UK.
Thanks to our pressure, and the leadership of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Hilary Benn and others, G8 leaders signed an historic agreement to cancel debt for the most highly indebted poor countries and secured agreements to scale up aid by billions of pounds.
Ten years on, as we approach the Sustainable Development Goals summit in September and a major climate change conference in December, it is clear our work is far from over. But we have also made great progress towards global poverty reduction, and Britain’s contribution couldn’t have happened without Labour campaigners and politicians leading the way.
Between 1997 and 2010 Labour helped lift 3 million people out of poverty each year. We helped to get 40 million more children into school, and 3 million people onto lifesaving HIV drugs. 1.5 million people gained access to safe water and sanitation services. We cancelled 100% of multilateral debts for the poorest countries. We set up a dedicated Department for International Development which was working so well that even the Tories felt obliged to hold on to it.
And in opposition we have kept up the pressure. Ten years after Labour first put Britain on the timetable to reaching the 0.7% target, and five years after Labour first proposed to enshrine this aid promise in law, I was proud to vote in the House of Commons as a Labour MP to pass the Bill to spend 0.7% of our GNI on overseas aid. It only got through because of Labour’s support – more Labour MPs voted for in favour of the law than all the other parties combined.
And yet today, progressive internationalism feels threatened once again – with some letting debates about immigration, the EU, international aid and other global issues become increasingly insular and closed-minded. Yet Britain, under a Labour Government, was once recognised as a world leader in promoting progressive international politics and tackling global poverty.
The Labour Campaign for International Development is a socialist society affiliated to the Labour Party, committed to getting Labour back in power and making Britain a progressive powerhouse once more.
On the tenth anniversary of Make Poverty History, I would be delighted if you could help us by:
1) Sharing this video to remind our party and the public how far we’ve come in the last ten years, using the hashtag #makepovertyhistory.
2) If you’re not already a member, joining the Labour Campaign for International Development, a group for all those committed to a world without poverty and injustice. Follow us on Twitter at @LabourCID and join us at lcid.org.uk/join.
Ten years ago we made history, but we haven’t yet defeated global poverty and injustice. Join us in that fight.
Stephen Doughty MP
Vice President, Labour Campaign for International Development
By Gordon Brown
First published by The Guardian, 6th July 2015
They are all Malala. Four defiant, courageous girls who stand toe-to-toe with the education campaigner Malala Yousafzai. Four ordinary girls who have done extraordinary things representing thousands of Malalas across this dark and dangerous world.
And their cause – empowerment for girls – is the theme of a critical Oslo conference on education and development today, convened by the Norwegian prime minister, Erna Solberg, which Malala and I will address.
Malala was shot by Taliban gunmen for wanting to go to school and survived a bullet to the head. The four girls’ stories are different to Malala’s, but the bravery of each one of them is just as astonishing, and they all want the same outcome.
Like Malala, Geeta, Ashwini, Dilan and Razia have been fighting daily personal battles against those who would deny them education and condemn them to lives of child labour, child marriage or child trafficking.
They are waging the civil rights struggle of our time: a demand to end prejudice, discrimination and exclusion; and for ours to be the first generation in history to guarantee every single girl basic rights.
Geeta, from Nepal, was nine years old when she was sold into the sex trade and trafficked to India. To secure clients Geeta would wear makeup and be on the streets soliciting until 2am. She says she was forced to be with as many as 60 men each day. But out of a deep family tragedy is built a personal triumph. Rescued at the age of 14, she is now leading the way along with organisations such as the American Himalayan Foundation, who are trying to stop thousands of girls, including many made homeless from Nepal’s earthquake, being sold for $500 each into India.
At the age of 10, Dilan became part of what is now a mass exodus from Syria, fleeing with her mother in the dead of night into Lebanon – but it was a journey that took her from a school classroom to child labour. She spent her 11th birthday toiling in a garlic factory, peeling cloves and not earning a wage, only the right to a roof over her and her mother’s heads. Now, at 13, she wants to get back to school, become a teacher and one day help rebuild Syria. She is one of 1,000 global youth ambassadors for education, and is campaigning for 500,000 Syrian refugees to attend Lebanese schools.
Progress towards universal education has not only stalled but has gone into reverse.
Razia, who grew up in a village on the outskirts of Meerut, India, was sent to work at the age of four, stitching together small pieces of hide to make footballs. “My fingers bled whenever the needle pierced through them,” she recalls. “It happened with many children and some of them have suffered severe deformity. We had no idea that football players and businessmen made millions of dollars whereas we were trapped in a vicious circle of hunger and servitude.”
Rescued by the Nobel peace prize winner Kailash Satyarthi, she then pursued her education, became a young leader in the Global March Against Child Labour network, and when I met her was establishing the Nepalese national commission on child labour.
Ashwini was born blind and brought up in a poor rural community in India where bigoted neighbours tormented and mocked her for being disabled. One day, she decided to fight the discrimination and not only got the school grades that took her to college but has now become India’s premier champion of disabled rights, opening a residential school for visually impaired children.
These everyday stories of courage are repeated thousands of times over in girl-led movements such as the Nilphamari child marriage free zone in Bangladesh, Nepal’s Common Forum for Kalmal Hari Freedom, Indonesia’s Grobogan Child Empowerment Group and the Upper Manya Krobo Rights of the Child Club.
And there is good reason why this civil rights struggle is being stepped up now. Out-of-school numbers are rising fast because of the greatest exodus we have seen since 1945: a staggering 30 million displaced children on the long march from their homes into exile, often outside their own country in refugee camps, tents and hovels, offering little chance of ever going near a classroom.
After two decades during which 40 million more children enrolled for school, progress towards universal education has not only stalled but has gone into reverse with, as confirmed by Unesco figures today, 124m children out of school, 59m of them primary age, and the majority of them girls who have never enrolled.
The new set of statistics is damning. A look at primary and lower secondary ages combined shows one out of eight girls was out of school in 2013, and one out of nine boys. But the most tragic figures of all are that 24 million children will never enter a classroom. Half of all out-of-school children in sub-Saharan Africa will never enrol. And girls are the most disadvantaged, particularly in south and west Asia, where 80% of out-of-school girls are unlikely to start school, compared to just 16% for boys.
The UN’s new sustainable development goals call for secondary education for all by 2030; but to meet the additional costs and bridge the annual funding gap of $25bn for the poorest countries, we need innovative thinking.
This will start today in Oslo, when we consider creating the first humanitarian fund for education in emergencies. With its creation we can guarantee rapid action to help Syrian, Iraqi, South Sudanese and other girl refugees and intervene in places such as Nepal when catastrophe hits.
The choice in this election on international development is clear – between electing a Labour government to continue our tradition of helping the world’s poorest people…and a Conservative government whose pledges to voters do not contain a single mention of international development. And worse,their most likely coalition partners, UKIP, want to abolish DFID and the aid budget by £9bn a year.
Leading in the World – Labour’s manifesto pledges
Labour is an internationalist party and believes Britain must engage with the global challenges we face, but not try and solve them on our own. We believe the Conservatives are damaging the interests of our country by turning their backs on Europe, and isolating us abroad. We will strengthen our national security, stand up for human rights, and work with other countries to tackle terrorism, climate change, and eliminate extreme poverty globally. Download Labour’s manifesto here.
We are proud that Labour MPs passed the historic law that commits Britain to spend 0.7 per cent of our gross national income on international development. Labour will use that commitment from the British public to transform the lives of the world’s poorest people, whilst ensuring value for taxpayers’ money. We will work in fragile and conflict-affected states to improve the lives of those affected by violence, prioritising the protection and education of women and children. We will rebalance the budget to focus funding on the world’s poorest countries.
While progress has been made towards the Millennium Development Goals, it is unacceptable that over a billion people still live on less than $1.25 a day. We will work with other countries at this year’s Sustainable Development Goals Summit to unite the world to eradicate extreme poverty, tackle growing economic inequality, and place human rights at the heart of development.
We will establish a Centre for Universal Health Coverage to provide the support, encouragement, and global partnerships needed to help countries provide free healthcare. We will lead efforts to reshape the UN humanitarian system to better equip it to save lives.
The private sector is essential to long-term development, and is often a positive force for change. We will extend the sharing of tax information to developing countries, increase DFID’s help to governments to collect more of their own taxes, tackle corruption, and ensure good governance. We will work with companies to ensure they have sustainable supply chains that are free from slavery, treat their workers fairly, and pay taxes where they are due.
We will put climate change at the heart of our foreign policy. As the terrible impact of the floods in Britain showed last year, climate change is now an issue of national, as well as global security. From record droughts in California, to devastating typhoons in the Philippines, the world is already seeing the effects we once thought only future generations would experience.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made clear that if the world is going to hold warming below two degrees (the internationally agreed goal), global emissions need to peak in around 2020, and then decline rapidly to reach net zero emissions by the second half of this century. The weaker the action now, the more rapid and costly the reductions will need to be later.
The effects of climate change hit the poor, the hardest. If we do not tackle climate change, millions of people will fall into poverty. We will expand the role of the Department of International Development to mitigate the risks of a changing climate, and support sustainable livelihoods for the world’s poorest people.
We want an ambitious agreement on climate change at the UNFCCC conference in Paris, in December. We will make the case for ambitious emissions targets for all countries, strengthened every five years on the basis of a scientific assessment of the progress towards the below two degree goal. And we will push for a goal of net zero global emissions in the second half of this century, for transparent and universal rules for measuring, verifying and reporting emissions, and for an equitable deal in which richer countries provide support to poorer nations in combating climate change.
A commitment to universal human rights will be at the heart of our foreign policy across the world. We will continue to promote women’s rights. We will join with those campaigning to attain gender equality, the eradication of poverty and inclusive economic growth. We will appoint a Global Envoy for Religious Freedom, and establish a multi-faith advisory council on religious freedom within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. And we will appoint an International LGBT Rights Envoy to promote respect for the human rights of LGBT people, and work towards the decriminalisation of homosexuality worldwide.
The Middle East
Peace and security in the Middle East are one of Labour’s most important foreign policy objectives.
Palestine – We remain committed to a comprehensive two-state solution – a secure Israel alongside a viable and independent state of Palestine. There can be no military solution to this conflict and all sides must avoid taking action that would make peace harder to achieve. Labour will continue to press for an immediate return to meaningful negotiations leading to a diplomatic resolution.
ISIL’s barbarism and expansionist ideology, alongside terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and Al-Shabaab, represent a particular threat to global security. Following a request from the Iraqi Prime Minister, it was right that the UK joined other nations in air strikes against ISIL targets in Iraq. But military action alone will not defeat ISIL. A long-term multinational political strategy, with regional actors playing a central role, is essential for tackling the rise of extremism across the region.
The Conservative’s record on international development
In their manifesto, the Conservatives say they delivered on their commitment to enshrine on 0.7% of GNI on aid, but this law only passed as a private members bill after they couldn’t be bothered to table it themselves, and did their best to wreck it at every stage of its passage through Parliament. It was down to Labour MPs and Peers to ensure the bill was passed, with more Labour MPs voting for it then all the other parties combined.
The Conservatives promise further efforts to prevent climate change and help the poorest populations adapt. But the last five years have proven that their promise to be the “greenest government ever” meant nothing. Carbon emissions have gone up, David Cameron only recently talked of “cutting the green cr*p”, and he doesn’t mention the climate at all in meetings with world leaders.
The Conservatives say they will push for new global goals to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030. If this was really the case, Cameron would have shown up to the meetings of the UN High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Having landed the prestigious chair role, he gave the meetings a miss and instead focused his efforts at the UN on getting jobs for his mates.
And when the Conservatives declare in their manifesto that they’ll try and reshape OECD rules on what counts as aid to reflect the importance of ‘stability’ – how can we trust that this isn’t another attempt to divert aid towards military spending?
UKIP – the Tories most likely coalition partners
UKIP will cut the foreign aid budget by £9bn per year – with a much-reduced aid budget administered by the Foreign Office, with DFID scrapped as an independent department with a Cabinet minister. Read more here.
Go Green – Vote Labour
Labour has a record to be proud of and a hopeful, ambitious and achievable vision on international development and climate change. That is reason enough to vote Labour over the Green Party or SNP. But if you live in a marginal it is also the only way to ensure the Tories and UKIP do not get in.
3. Join the Labour Campaign for International Development and help us ensure international development remains high on the political agenda and at the heart of Labour’s programme for government.