Kate Green: We should use foreign aid to create work opportunities for refugees

Kate Green MP blogs oh how foreign aid can create opportunities for refugees

“I brought everything from my house, everything I could fit in the car and carry. I even brought my tea mug with me.” These are the words of Maher Mahmoud Al Haresh, a Syrian refugee I met in Jordan last week. Small details like Maher’s mug make us realise how much we have in common with one another. But Maher is one of almost 80,000 refugees living in Za’atari refugee camp, and one of 760,000 living in Jordan, and he and his family live a life that in most ways could not be more different from my own.

Despite the admirable generosity of the Jordanians, who have welcomed Syrian refugees to their country, in my visit to the camp last week, I felt again and again the sadness and emptiness that the refugees in Jordan (and other countries in the region) experience. Having fled unimaginable danger at home, they are safe, but cannot imagine the future with optimism, and their day-to-day life remains unbearably hard. Like many of the others in Za’atari, Maher is unable to work, his wife and eldest child are seriously unwell, his children’s education suffers, and there is little hope of the family returning to Syria soon.

Aid agencies like Oxfam, UN officials and representatives from DfID on the ground are doing all they can to address this situation, doing their best to create employment opportunities for women and men in the camp. But while Syrian women’s participation in the labour market was relatively high before the conflict, cultural barriers and a very low female employment rate in Jordan, combined with more traditional views of gender roles that war has provoked, plus poor public transport and infrastructure, mean it’s been necessary to create gender-specific projects for women and men to work inside the Za’atari camp.

Nesma AlNsour/Oxfam

The projects we saw were uplifting. With my fellow parliamentarians Lord Alf Dubs and Tim Loughton MP, I visited a social enterprise where women are making trendy tote bags out of old tents – the very canvas that provided shelter in the early days of the camp’s existence, before tents were replaced with the cabin-like structures the refugees now call home. Oxfam helped the women to set up the workshop, and the bags are now being sold all over Europe, with proceeds being used to support the refugees. Meanwhile, Oxfam has worked with a refugee who previously ran his own successful recycling business in Syria to establish two recycling plants in the camp staffed by male refugees. Women peer educators have conducted community outreach work to encourage families in the camp to sort and recycle their waste. This project also generates income for the camp inhabitants, while improving its environmental impact.

Inspiring though they are, these projects are small scale, employing dozens of refugees in a camp of tens of thousands. Some of the younger refugees have never worked. I met a 20-year-old man who had come to the camp at age 14. He can’t go home for fear of being conscripted into the Syrian army. He’s not allowed to leave the camp to find work in Jordan, and there’s no work for him to do in the camp. Meanwhile, his 50-year-old mother, a qualified teacher in Syria, acts as an informal childminder for her neighbours’ children, but she too cannot get formal work in or outside the camp.

It’s easy for us to be critical of Jordan for restricting refugees’ right to work. After all, we too in the UK apply unreasonable restrictions that offer only the most limited employment prospects to asylum seekers, despite our high employment rate. In Jordan, the picture is different: unemployment is high, so protective employment policies may appear to make more sense. But the answer to Jordan’s economic challenges lies not in shutting refugees out of the workforce, but in recognising their potential to help to grow its economy, while rebuilding their self-esteem and dignity that come from having a job to do.

And the refugees have much to offer. The main avenue that runs through the camp, known as the Champs-Élysées, is lined with food stalls, mobile phone shops, hair salons and bridal gown boutiques – a sign of their entrepreneurial drive and desire to build something out of nothing. Others are highly qualified professionals – like the teacher I met – but whose expertise and knowledge is going to waste.

That’s why one of the messages I’m bringing back to the UK government from my visit is that we need to think much more creatively about how we use the power of our aid and influence to encourage economic and employment opportunities for Syrian refugees in Jordan. In particular, we should think about how we can boost employment opportunities for women, as we know that when women thrive their children do well, and for young people, which could avoid the loss of a generation that may otherwise never have the chance to work. These themes are of course very familiar to me from UK domestic policy, where I’ve seen again and again that maximising employment among women and young people benefits not just the individual employees, but their families, communities, the economy and society as a whole.

As with Maher’s tea mug, there’s a common thread between the lives of the refugees desperate to work in Za’atari and the lives of those I’ve met who are shut out of the labour market here at home. That’s why I’ll be pressing our government to promote solutions – like access to education, tailor-made back to work employment programmes, real living wages and a right to work for all who want to – for Syrian refugees in Jordan; the very solutions that I’ve long campaigned for in the UK too.

Kate Green is MP for Stretford and Urmston.

Uganda’s Forgotten Crisis: Why Labour must call for Britain to remain a force for good in the world

Libby Smith is Head of Advocacy at The Coalition for Global Prosperity

Barely a day goes by where we don’t see horrific pictures showing the devastating impact of war splashed across our front pages. We are facing the largest refugee crisis since World War II and yet Uganda, home to over 1 million refugees, rarely makes the front pages.

A daily exodus of mostly women and children are fleeing armed conflict, hunger and sexual violence in South Sudan resulting in what the United Nations has called Africa’s biggest humanitarian crisis. The sad reality is that 61% of these refugees are children, many of whom have arrived at the camps alone.

Yet it is here, in the midst of such hardship that I met such brilliant, perseverant children, keen to get an education, make a life for themselves and return to South Sudan. Children like 13-year-old Isaac, who arrived at the camp with just his sister and wants to grow up to be a doctor “We need to be educated so we can return home and build a peaceful future for South Sudan”.

Isaac is right, we cannot allow an entire generation of South Sudanese children to become casualties of the civil war, after all it is these children who will pick up the broken pieces of their home and rebuild the South Sudan of tomorrow.

British aid is helping them to do just that. On a recent visit to Uganda with Shadow International Development Minister Preet Gill MP and international children’s charity World Vision UK, I felt incredibly proud to see British investment helping to provide these children with shelter, food, education, sanitary pads and vital mental and emotional support.

The emotional scars and immense trauma these children have suffered are unimaginably, with many having previously been recruited as child soldiers. We met Abdo, aged 14, who arrived at the camp when he was just 12 years old, both his parents had been killed, making him responsible for taking care of four of his younger siblings. Taking care of four young children is a huge responsibility for anyone, yet alone a 14-year-old boy with not a penny to his name. We don’t know what happened to make Abdo an orphan, too traumatised to speak about his past, but it was clear that he had suffered immense emotional scars. It is UK Aid and fantastic NGOs like World Vision UK who are helping to provide children like Abdo with the emotional, as well as physical, support they need to deal with what they have been through. Providing a safe place where children can recover and rebuild their lives.

Britain’s work here should be a source of great national pride. UK aid has provided food for over 1 million refugees, immunised 146,000 under-fives and got over 2,000 children into a classroom, with World Vision alone providing 25,000 children with child protection services and 360,000 people with food assistance.

Britain does this because it is morally the right thing to do and demonstrates that we do not neglect our duty to the world’s poorest. The refugee crisis in East Africa cannot be ignored and the conflict in South Sudan will not end tomorrow. We can either wait for things to get worse, provoking an even bigger refugee crisis or we can help people rebuild their lives. Everyone I spoke to in the camp wants to return home to South Sudan when it is safe to do so, they do not want to venture any further from their homes than they have already had to. Yet without the crucial support UK aid, and other international bodies, are providing these refugees will face starvation and be forced to migrate further afield in order to survive. Helping to provide a safe haven in Uganda reduces the push factors which can lead to onward migration to Europe and helps prevent vulnerable individuals falling victim to criminal gangs and people smugglers.

At a time when the UK is redefining its role in the world we have a unique opportunity to decide what kind of country we want to be. Theresa May has called for a “truly Global Britain that reaches beyond the border of Europe” and as a Labour member, I agree. Labour is the internationalist party and whether you voted for or against Brexit, we must now use this opportunity to forge an even more positive, global future for ourselves and UK Aid must be a key part of this.

Labour is a broad church with a wide range of views, which we openly discuss and debate to the credit of our party. Yet there are few issues that garner such support across the party as international development. Internationalism means a lot to the Labour Party – it is our belief in not being defined and restricted by your start in life and our solidarity with those beyond our shores. Labour doesn’t always get it right and I would be the first to agree with criticisms about how far Labour is prepared to condemn regressive regimes around the world. However, we are united in our stance that Britain cannot neglect its duty to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.

You wouldn’t know it from our newspapers, but Britain is a global leader in development. The work we do is hugely respected across the world, and the Department for International Development (DFID) is regarded as one of the world’s most transparent, effective aid donors in the world. UK aid is a key part of the UK’s global offering, flying the flag for Britain around the world. Something that is more important now than ever before.

We may be leaving the European Union but that doesn’t mean we can pull up the drawbridge and turn our backs on the world. Far from it, we must use this moment to go out into the world to build relationships with old friends and new allies alike, forging an even more positive, global future for ourselves and the UK’s partnership with Uganda is a key example of this.

That doesn’t mean we can be complacent. Recent events show us how important it is to scrutinise every partner we work with and every program we fund. Wasting aid and funding corruption and exploitation is criminal and we must be thorough in routing this out to ensure our aid is invested carefully, strategically and coherently. As ultimately it is children like Isaac and Abdo who will suffer the consequences of badly invested aid.

I would also never try to claim that aid is a silver bullet – it’s not. On its own it cannot solve all the world’s problems, our free trade agenda, active diplomacy and defence strategies are also vital. But as I saw in Bidi Bidi, when invested and implemented well and reaching those in need, it is an incredible force for good in the world and demonstrates that Britain really is Great when it boldly champions its values both at home and abroad.

The big neglected development issue

LCID member Martin Drewry blogs on the War on Drugs

Ask a typical activist what the main causes of global poverty are – and they’ll probably say things like trade, tax dodging, international debt, climate change, 0.7%… But I’m betting not many would mention one of the biggest factors of all – the so-called War on Drugs.

So why is it such a big deal for development?  

  1. Prohibition is the power base of global organised crime.  (Think prohibition era America writ large across the world.)  It means the street price of their product rockets – resulting in them having enough wealth and power to bring states to their knees.  Through combinations of bribery and (terrifying) intimidation, drug cartels render the machinery of states dysfunctional – and to the extent a state does survive it’s often locked in civil war with an illicit empire possessing military might to rival its own.  In this context, what hope is there for pro-poor social and economic development? For those forced into poverty to have a chance of having their rights recognised, they need two things – a state with the resources to deliver, and a state that is accountable. The War on Drugs takes away both.
  2. Prohibition means the drugs market – one of the world’s largest trading sectors – is completely untaxed.  (That’s a form of subsidy!!) A recent report by Health Poverty Action showed that taxing cannabis alone in the UK could raise between £1 billion and £3.5 billion a year for the NHS.  And that’s in a diverse developed economy.  In many poorer countries the drugs market is a far greater proportion of GDP.  Properly taxing it would be beyond transformative in terms of state revenue for essential services like health and education.
  3. Prohibition harms public health.  The one-size-fits-all law enforcement approach clearly doesn’t stopping people taking drugs.  On the contrary, it motivates powerful crime syndicates to increase consumption as much as possible.  Worse still, lack of regulation and harm reductions services means consumption is far more dangerous – consumers have no idea of the strength, and no certainty what is contained. Even the simplest food products are required to give us detailed information about composition on the packaging – but for something as dangerous as drugs there’s no regulation or testing whatsoever.
  4. The War on Drugs disproportionately criminalises minority ethnic communities worldwide.  That’s well known. Lesser known is the fact that it also disproportionately incarcerates women – who are often forced into the more risky and lower paid roles.
  5. Forced crop eradication routinely takes away the livelihoods of poor farmers in marginalised rural areas – with devastating effects for them and their families.
  6. Crop eradication also wreaks havoc with the environment – first through the indiscriminate use of chemicals, and then by new deforestation when the production relocates to a more remote area.  (10% of the rainforest loss in Peru has been caused by this.)
  7. The War on Drugs prevents access to essential medicines.  Excessive bureaucracy (through fear of being perceived as soft on drugs) restricts global supplies of opioid medications – meaning a large proportion of cancer and AIDS sufferers worldwide are denied these painkillers.
  8. It fuels violence and secondary crimes – 29,000 lost lives in 2017 in Mexico alone.
  9. It disenfranchises people involved in the drugs trade from the state and its services – for example making them afraid to seek help, such as health care and police protection, in case their drug involvement is discovered.
  10. Finally, to clinch it… if all the above isn’t enough… the amount spent on the War on Drugs each year is $100 billion.  And that’s just the initial spend – it doesn’t include the secondary costs of tackling the problems caused, so the full total is much more.   This compares with the global aid budget of $130 billion. Imagine all the War on Drugs money being used to eradicate poverty rather than create it.

Putting all this together, a case can be made that the War on Drugs isn’t just one of the biggest causes of global poverty, but possibly even the single most significant factor.  

So where is our involvement?  Why are we so silent on the issue?  

If it’s because development voices have been afraid of the controversy (and I think, in truth, that’s probably been part of it), then that’s outdated.  Drug policy reform today presents far more political opportunity than threat. And even if it didn’t, some things are too important to ignore. We’re at our best in Labour when we stand up and speak out for what’s right.

There’s no question that it’s easy to feel frustrated at how slow we’ve been to engage.  But actually, the most logical thing to feel here is incredible excitement!!

Significant change here is highly achievable.  And because there has been so little involvement by the development sector, none of the low hanging fruit have been picked.  

For a start, Labour should commit to moving drug policy responsibility out of the Home Office.  It’s ridiculous that it’s led from there. Instead, Labour should allocate it jointly to the Department of Health and DFID.  That simple change alone will make a vast difference.

Furthermore, Labour should champion the rights of all countries to explore alternative drug policies, as has happened so effectively for example in Bolivia’s coca control programme.  To do this we don’t need to believe that we should reform our drug policies in the UK (although we absolutely should review those too!).  We simply need to believe that countries should have the freedom to make their own choices.  Labour in opposition should provide moral and political support for those wishing to do this – so that countries in the Global South are able to stand up to pressure from the USA and others seeking to prevent them.  And Labour in government should provide them with financial assistance through DFID, along with support for international policy dialogue informed by an increasing global evidence base.

Finally, I’d like to offer an observation.  Having been a development campaigner for many years, I notice that most of our campaigns have tended to originate in the Global North.  It’s not that these haven’t (mostly) been on important issues, and global justice movements throughout the world have often been pleased to be part of them.  But the War on Drugs is one of the very few issues that I’ve been actively, and passionately, lobbied by leaders of the Global South to campaign on.

When we’re selecting our priorities, that last point should make a difference.  If we choose to listen to them and take action, the cause of development can be transformed.  

 

LCID welcomes focus on inequality in new Labour policy paper on international development

The Labour Party has a proud history of internationalism. From the establishment of the Ministry of Overseas Development in 1964 to the creation of the Department for International Development in 1997, Labour has shown time and again that internationalism is in our DNA. We have always fought for justice and equality at home and abroad, and we must continue to do so. It’s one of the reason why so many are drawn to Labour in the first place.

As a party, we should be proud of what we have achieved. But we must also look ahead to what the next Labour government can do to not only reduce poverty around the world but also reduce inequality – both within and across nations.

Today, the Labour Campaign for International Development welcomes the new Labour paper on the future of international development policy, launched today by Kate Osamor MP, Shadow Secretary of State.

The paper sets out 5 key priority areas for the next Labour government;

  1. A fairer global economy
  2. A global movement for public services
  3. A feminist approach to development
  4. Building peace and preventing conflict
  5. Action for climate justice and ecology

The aim is that all of these will be achieved through the twin action of tackling not just poverty, but also addressing inequality. We know that during conflict or crises, women and girls are hit the hardest; open to exploitation, gender-based violence, and a high risk of early, forced and child marriage to ensure families have enough money to survive. And it is not just women and girls who can fall through the cracks by not tackling inequality, but other marginalised groups – such as those living with disabilities, in the LGBTQ+ community, and those living in refugee camps to name a few. We have long called for a focus on reducing inequality, and it is great to see a number of these things included in this paper – from focusing on the Palma Ratio, to restoring aid funding to public health and education, to creating a Centre for Universal Health Coverage.

For each of the five priorities set out in the paper, Labour will take action not only through DFID – but by working with other government departments and international partners. A whole government approach to development is to be welcomed, and is one of the priorities LCID set out in our submission to the task force.

We are engaging with the shadow development team and were pleased to see that a number of policy demands we’ve been calling for, particularly on inequality, tax and universal health care, made it into their recent policy paper.

One area where greater clarification is needed is regarding the future of the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund. The CSSF currently helps fund the White Helmets, who are are strong supporters of (raising funds for them at our Christmas fundraiser), so we would like to see UK aid funding for them continued under any future Labour government (should the terrible conflict in Syria still be dragging on).

We must be realistic. A policy paper is not a new dawn. A new dawn will only come when we have a Labour government. But this policy paper is a good place to start. The Labour Party must now join together – from the PLP, to socialist societies, to the Trade Unions, to its members in each and every constituency, and to all voters to ensure that our vision for a fair and just world is recognised and bought in to by all.

What you can do:

  1. Join LCID and help us campaign for a fair and just world
  2. If you re a Member of Parliament or a member of a CLP and would like to arrange a talk at a member meeting please get in touch
  3. Let us know if you would like to get involved in LCID

LCID Submission to the Labour International Development Task Force

Labour has always fought for justice and equality for all both at home and abroad. That must continue. Whilst the world has changed and remains in constant flux, one thing remains constant: Labour values of cooperation and internationalism are the ones to guide us in a globalised world. This submission presents seven areas of priority for Labour’s International Development team.

1. A whole Government approach

Britain’s role in the world – and our ability to reduce inequality and help people, communities and countries lift themselves out of poverty and fulfil their rights – is about so much more than aid, and stretches beyond what Labour’s flagship Department for International Development (DFID) is able to achieve on its own.

LCID believes in a pro-rights, pro-equality and multilateralist approach to development that not only lifts people out of poverty but fundamentally redistributes power and addresses structural injustices. Aid remains central – but we need to look beyond it. To do this, we need to mainstream global social justice across UK Government policy.

Policy coherence matters on two levels: within our aid policy and across all UK Government policies that have a global impact. Policy coherence has to begin with coherence of objective. If coherence of objective is achieved then, with the right mechanisms in place, coherence of delivery will follow. That is the only way to ensure that we do not entrench poverty with one hand whilst trying to relieve it with the other. An open, globally-minded Britain should aim to be a development superpower.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can only be achieved with a cross-government approach and ensuring all goals are seen as cross-cutting and not in silos. In prioritising some SDGs over others, there is a risk that governments, private sector companies and other stakeholders adopt a ‘pick and choose’ approach. Further to a cross-departmental approach to the SDGs the UK must ensure it is delivering the SDGs for the many and not the few, ensuring that no-one is left behind.

A Labour Government must:

  • Ensure that all policies – on trade, tax, immigration, defence, energy, climate change, foreign policy alliances and growth – are ‘pro-development’.
  • Create a cross-departmental working group to monitor the implementation and success of delivery against the SDGs both at home and abroad, creating a national plan for the UK to deliver from at home.

2. Quality of Aid Spending

Whilst aid is just one of the ways in which a Labour government can help people, communities and countries lift themselves out of poverty, it is imperative that Labour continues to make the case for aid. Since the 0.7% target was enshrined in law, it has come under constant attack and there have been numerous attempts to divert aid money for domestic purposes, and to spend aid money through departments other than DFID.

A Labour Government must:

  • Ensure that we maintain our global leadership position on aid, spending 0.7% of GNI on eradicating extreme poverty and delivering our life-saving support through an independent Department for International Development.
  • Ensure DFID’s poverty reduction mandate is protected with no resumption of tying aid to British commercial interests or diversion of funding to subsidise the Ministry of Defence.

3. Ethical Foreign Policy

Labour is an internationalist party with a proud record of fighting injustices around the world, from supporting Indian independence, to the anti-apartheid struggle, to leading action to protect civilians in Sierra Leone and Kosovo. We must learn from the many successes and failures of our foreign policy decisions. Every situation is different, but we must always be guided by our internationalist principles and by our international obligations such as the Responsibility To Protect Civilians, which we signed up to with each and every government in the U.N. in 2005.

This principle acknowledges that when a government either wilfully fails to protect the security of its citizens, or is unable to do so, the international community has a clear obligation to intervene, choosing timely and decisive action from a wide range of approaches, including diplomatic means, sanctions and in the most extreme cases, military operations.

Through our development work and following any direct interventions we will always stand ready to support communities and countries to rebuild with a long term development plan to secure safety, stability and prosperity for their people. The merits of any actions we take or decline to take must always be carefully considered and scrutinised, recognising that both action and inaction are a choice and each has a consequence. The lessons of Iraq will be important in those considerations – so too must be the lessons of Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Syria. The next Labour Government must make the case for an ethical foreign policy and champion a progressive approach to humanitarian intervention.

A Labour Government must:

  • Uphold the 2005 UN Responsibility to Protect Civilians agreement, and the Arms Trade Treaty.

4. Trade Post-Brexit

Trade is one of the most effective way to lift millions of people out of poverty, and making trade fair should therefore be a key priority for any Labour Government. At a minimum, we must ensure our post-Brexit trade agreements with economically vulnerable countries build on the current trade agreements that exist between the EU and these countries.

A Labour Government must:

  • Offer a non-reciprocal preference scheme for imports from economically vulnerable countries immediately upon Britain’s exit of the EU.

5. Tax

Tax dodging is a major global issue that hits poor countries harder than anywhere – caused primarily by the arrangements that multinationals have to shift profits away from the developing countries where the profit-making activities take place. Tax avoidance by multinational companies costs developing countries around $200 billion every year according to an IMF paper, and tax havens cost developing countries at least $100 billion a year according to UNCTAD.

A Labour Government must:

  • Review all UK tax policies to ensure they do not undermine global agreements, are fair to poor countries, and consistent with the UK’s development objectives. For example, George Osborne’s changes to the Controlled Foreign Companies Rules in 2012 cost developing countries enormously. These changes should be reversed and all future UK tax policy changes should be reviewed in terms of their impact on developing countries.
  • Push for public country-by-country reporting of tax information by multinational companies within 2 years, either multilaterally, or if that fails, unilaterally.
  • Ensure that all UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies finally adopt public registers of who owns which companies and trusts registered there within one year of entering government.

6. Brexit and Development Funding

EU funding for development and humanitarian crises has had a major impact on poverty reduction around the world. UK support to EU instruments, such as Europe’s ECHO humanitarian fund and the European Development Fund (EDF), both of which received good scores in the Government’s own Multilateral Development Review, enables it to reach and support vulnerable people who would not otherwise have access to vital assistance. UK based NGOs also received €356.9m of new commitments from EU funds in 2016.

Beyond a funding relationship the UK and aid sector has had a leading influence on the EU’s approach to development. The effectiveness of UK Aid is in part a result of this close working and it has helped to drive up the effectiveness and transparency of EU aid and in pushing member states to meet the 0.7% of GNI to ODA commitment.

Participation of non-Member States in the EU’s development and humanitarian funds does currently take place and therefore could be replicated for the UK after it leaves the European Union. In the case of Switzerland, Transfer agreement delegated cooperation rules and EU Trust Fund legal mechanisms permits them to channel their ODA via EU funds and programmes and to participate in policy discussions and decisions.

A Labour Government must:

  • Continue a relationship with EU funding instruments and seek to adopt a Switzerland style agreement to ensure the UK can still work with EU institutions to guide programme and policy discussions and decisions.

 

 

Aid should remain focused on the world’s poorest

Our reaction to the Penny Mordaunt’s call to spend UK aid “in the national interest”:

Penny Mordaunt is right to praise the generosity of the UK public, who want our aid budget to be spent on the people who need it the most. Therefore, her call to reshape our aid to address UK interests is not only a betrayal of the public’s generosity, it also threatens to weaken public support for aid.

In speaking to the BBC’s Today programme, Penny Mordaunt said that “For me the bar we need to set on aid spending is not just are we spending this money well, but could we spend it better in the national interest”. This agenda directly contravenes UK legislative requirements on aid which require all UK aid to be driven by the goal of supporting poverty reduction.

Penny Mordaunt also suggests there are simple win-win outcomes from directing aid to the UK’s national interest. However, she is not being straight with the UK public. There is already evidence that new programmes – overseen by the Foreign Office – to develop commercial relationships with the likes of Argentina, Chile, Malaysia and Turkey are leading to cuts in aid to the poorest countries.

Penny Mordaunt must immediately get on with her job of securing the development and poverty focus of our aid budget, as demanded by the UK public and UK legislation.