UNHCR: Admission pathways for Syrian refugees

Mark made the following interventions in a debate on refugees from Syria:

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I am glad that the hon. Lady has given the UK Government some credit. Our aid contribution and our leadership should be admired to a great degree. The one thing she has not touched on—maybe she will do so later in her speech—is where she sees the medium term for Syria. Does she see it as being a united state—which I know is still the position of Her Majesty’s Government—or does she see it as being divided? In other words, does she see the displacement of huge numbers of Syrians as a medium to long-term phenomenon, or can it be solved more quickly, if the international community has the will and can provide safe havens within the country that we currently call Syria?

Caroline Lucas: Well, if anybody knew the answer to that question, they would be a very much wiser person than many of us here, and certainly very much wiser than I am. I would love to think that there is a solution in the shorter term. All countries need to redouble their efforts on the peace process. In reality, a solution is more likely in the medium term. I do not know whether that will be through splitting the country or keeping it coherent. I would certainly favour the latter, if it could be done in a safe way. Essentially, that decision needs to be made by the Syrian people. They need to make that decision in a democratic way, and we need to ensure that they are able to come to that kind of decision-making process in a safe and legal way.

Mark Field: It is important that we give some consideration to that. I accept that it is not our decision to make here in the UK: it will be a decision of the international community. To be brutally honest, if large numbers of Syrians are relocated—maybe hundreds of thousands, or millions—the danger is that they will tend to be the more educated people. It will be the very people who could make a real difference to Syria’s future who will essentially have no stake in it if they end up living in the United States, Canada or western Europe, yet they are the very people who would be needed to provide the backbone for a future sustainable Syria into the decades ahead.

Caroline Lucas: I agree with the right hon. Gentleman’s point, but the priority right now—the overwhelming priority for all of us—must be ensuring that those people are kept safe so that they can go back, and I think the vast majority will want to go back: it is their home, where they have their roots, histories and cultures.

Mark Field: I am not for one moment suggesting that we should go down the route that is prevalent in places such as Hungary or Poland, whereby we would look to give preferential treatment to Christians. However, my right hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point about religion and the fact that religious minorities and Christian minorities in the region are perhaps being under-reported.

To be absolutely candid, I also think that a policy of helping refugees would get broader support—beyond central London, Brighton and Hove, and Sheffield—if the case was being made that there are significant numbers of fellow religionists, as well as others, who are being brought here. As I say, that is not to give preferential treatment to any group. None the less, it would be good if the British public were made well aware of the depth of this problem for Christian communities, some of whom have been in the region since the very birth of Christianity.

Mrs Spelman: My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. My very last remark before his intervention was to say that we must be careful that one religious group is not privileged over another.

Religious literacy is incredibly important in this discussion. In a moment, I will speak about another minority—a non-Christian minority, the Yazidis—as the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) did before me.