MP says immigration controls needed but Labour will never scaremonger
Yvette Cooper gave an impassioned speech to Labour conference on refugees, citing Britain’s record of helping Jews fleeing Nazi Germany to call for more help to refugees abroad and children in the Calais ‘jungle’.
She also said controls on immigration were needed to curb trafficking, but said Labour would never scaremonger about immigration, attacking the Tory government and Nigel Farage’s UKIP.
Refugee and immigration policy has been a hot topic at Labour conference. Read more about this here.
Here is the full text of Yvette Cooper MP’s speech:
Think on two children, aged ten and nine. Primary school children by the side of a busy road. A ten-year-old whose father was killed when extremists took hold of their village; whose mother paid smugglers to take thae boys away.
They live on their own in a muddy tent., and each night they run along the side of a motorway – waiting for a lorry going slow enough to climb aboard.
They are scared. And they should be. Two weeks ago a fourteen-year-old fell off the lorry he clung to and was hit by a car – killed, trying to reach his brother in Britain.
He had a legal right to be here, yet he lived for months in danger and squalor. And he died by the side of a road. How have we let this happen?
Sometimes people say to me this is not our problem. Just walk by on the other side of the road. But these are children whose lives are at stake, someone’s young son, someone’s teenage daughter. Our children. Our common humanity.
Conference on suffering children, this country and this party must never turn our backs.
And I want to pay tribute to those who are working so hard to help. To all the community groups and organisations we have worked with in the Refugee Taskforce, to Save the Children, Citizens UK, Help Refugees, UNICEF, the Churches, the Synagogues and Mosques, Care4Calais groups in towns and Cities across the UK.
To thank Jeremy and Tom, Andy Burnham and Kate Osamor for the support they have given and continue to give to the Refugee Taskforce’s work. To Stella Creasy and Thangam Debbonaire who’ve played such important roles.
To thank the councils across the country encouraged by Nick Forbes who have stepped forward and said yes we will help, and the campaigners from all parties who worked with us to change the law; a promise to do our bit, just as our country did when we rescued 10,000 Jewish children from the Nazis in Europe.
Alf Dubs was one of those children, six years old, put on a train in Prague bound for England to escape the war. Three quarters of a century on.
Alf, lifelong campaigner for social justice, Labour councillor, Labour MP then Labour Lord, each time leading the way with his amendment so that Britain does its bit again to help a new generation of child refugees; giving them the new future our country gave him.
For them, and for all of us, Lord Alf Dubs – we pay tribute to you today.
This is a global crisis we face. Across the world 65 million people driven from their homes by conflict or persecution. You will hear the government talk of the pull factor. What of the push factor? See the pictures from Aleppo.
Bombs launched by the Syrian regime that rip through reinforced concrete, creating craters twenty metres wide. So there is no bunker, no cellar in which families can hide. No wonder they run.
Most incredible of all are those who stay – the doctors who stay to treat the wounded. The white helmets who stay to rescue those left alive. On Saturday, our Conference remembered the humanitarian work Jo Cox fought for throughout her life.
And today I also want to pay tribute to Jo’s family, who through their support of the White Helmets keep Jo’s work alive now. No country can solve this alone, but every country needs to play its part. No-one says it is easy.
People are worried about security, worried that the system can be abused or will be out of control.
And we should be clear. Helping refugees doesn’t mean open borders.
We need strong border checks to stop smuggler gangs, criminals and extremists exploiting the crisis.
We need fast and robust asylum procedures so that refugees get swift help and illegal migrants have to return so that everyone can have faith in the system.
We need proper integration plans for refugees and their families. But conference, immigration and asylum are different – too often the government treats them as the same.
Many people I have spoken to who want more controls on the number of people who come here to work, also think we should our bit to help those fleeing persecution who have no safe home to which they can return.
Refugees are less than 5 percent of those who come to our country. So we should never let fear of the difficult politics of immigration paralyse us from helping refugees.
But nor must we be paralysed from debating immigration reform either – or our tin ear to the concerns of the country will stop others listening to our case for helping refugees.
Just as people want to know the asylum system is fair, managed and controlled. They want to know that the immigration system is too.
And it isn’t racist to talk about how best every country manages migration or to say that while immigration is important, low skilled migration should come down. And saying this should not spark a row it should open up the debate.
In the referendum people voted against free movement. But there is no consensus over what people voted for.
Between cities and towns, between Scotland and England, young and old, and we should be part of a serious, thoughtful debate on what fair rules should be.
We cannot do that if we dig in from the start.
But here’s what we must never do. We won’t use fear on immigration as reason not to help those most in need,
We won’t call people ‘swarms’ or ‘hoards’ – they are mothers, fathers and children.
And we will never ever do what Nigel Farage did in the referendum campaign and use a poster of desperate people to stoke fear and hatred. That man should be ashamed.
So conference, our country rightly leads the way with international aid. I am glad the Conservative government has maintained that commitment, and proud that it was Labour campaigners many years ago who set the aid target, and the last Labour Government who brought it in.
But on sanctuary our country isn’t doing enough. Just 3,000 of the promised 20,000 Syrian refugees have come. After the Dubs amendment, so far no children from Greece or Italy have been helped.
And Calais should be a scar on the conscience of both France and Britain. Ten thousand people. One thousand children alone. Scabies rife. Violence and sectarianism in camp. Lorry drivers facing intimidation and serious safety threats. No-one assessing asylum cases, no-one protecting the children.
This is a shameful failure by the French authorities in the basic duty to keep children safe. But Britain has a responsibility too. Hundreds of those children have family in Britain, but they are still stuck waiting months. The foot dragging, the bureaucracy, the delays are a disgrace.
So Conference, we should support the contemporary resolution today. And Parliament should back Alf Dubs new amendment – drafted by Stella Creasy – to bring in safeguarding for child refugees.
France plans to dismantle the camp moving people to accommodation centres across the country. But there are no places being provided for lone children. Last time the authorities cleared part of the camp, over a hundred children just disappeared.
So let each country now agree to take half the lone children straight away. Let’s get all of these children into safety fast while their assessments are done, so there is no child left alone in the Calais mud and cold by the time Christmas comes.
Because this stalemate over children is dangerous. France says its Britain’s problem. Britain says it’s up to the French. I am sick of this standoff. Children’s lives and safety are at risk. Both governments need to get a grip and act.
Conference, I’ve heard from child and teenage refugees who want to be engineers, scientists, doctors, footballers.
But the one who surprised me was a teenager helped by Citizens UK and our political campaign, who said he wants to get involved in politics.
He said politics destroyed his country, but politics also saved his life. Now he wants to help, to give something back, just as Alf has done so many years on.
Because politics matters. So if ever you despair at the state of our politics even the divisions you think there are in our party. If ever you think of walking away, if ever you want to know why so many of us carry on, think of him and the children we can help; think of him and the lives Labour governments have saved.
Think of him, of Alf, the Kindertransport, of future doctors, poets, nobel laureates, husbands, sisters, mothers, children.
Of the amazing things we can do together, the people we can help, the amazing things that Labour can do.
Conference – that’s what our politics is all about.
Yvette Cooper is Chair of Laour’s Refugee TaskforceSign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.