Last week, Pope Francis called on the world to take action to end the mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar and the violence that they have faced.
Since the end of August, over 600,000 Rohingya people have fled from Myanmar into Bangladesh. This has naturally placed a significant strain on Bangladesh’s limited resources and created a difficult environment in the camps. I saw this first-hand on a recent Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Delegation visit to Bangladesh.
Refugees in the camps have limited water supply, no possessions and face long queues for food and shelter. Having arrived in Bangladesh with physical and psychological injuries due to the horrors that they have faced, the refugees are extremely vulnerable and some have even become victims of sexual exploitation. This situation is made all the more uncomfortable and unacceptable when we realise that over half of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are children, many of whom have lost one or both of their parents.
Aid workers and humanitarian organisations like the United Nations Refugee Agency have provided vital support in such difficult times. As a result, the International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt MP recently announced that a further £12m of UK aid will be sent to provide the Rohingya refugees with food, drinking water and shelter among other resources. While I welcome this offer, much more needs to be done. I believe that there will be no quick solutions and so the UK has an important role to play in continuing to pledge financial support whilst building the political will for a lasting solution in the region, such as giving the Rohingya full citizenship in Myanmar. This crisis has gone on for far too long now. Urgent action is needed.
Yesterday David Cameron pledged a new £20 million community fund to teach English to isolated women, but simplistically tied this money to cracking down on extremism.
While I welcome more money for language skills, over David Cameron’s last five years as Prime Minister his government has only cut funding from language classes. These classes are a fantastically powerful way to further integrate people into society, but shouldn’t be a tool in dog whistle politics. The singling out of Muslim women will only further stigmatise a group that is demonised too often in political discourse. Threatening to remove a woman from her family because she has been too busy caring for them to read Jane Austen is indicative of how this out of touch government thinks.”
Virendra Sharma MP
Labour is committed to achieving that as a genuine alternative to this Government’s counter-productive approach. We will soon be launching a new initiative working with the Muslim community to develop a better understanding of the issues and empowering it to tackle the very small minority at risk of radicalisation.
In his desire to grab easy headlines, David Cameron risks doing more harm than good. His clumsy and simplistic approach to challenging extremism is unfairly stigmatising a whole community. There is a real danger that it could end up driving further radicalisation, rather than tackling it.”
Andy Burnham MP, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary
On the 9th of September I wrote to the Prime minister urging him to do more to address the refugee crisis. Thousands that need our help and support are coming to the UK and Europe but the UK is not yet doing it's fair share.
I received a response later from the responsible minister.
I wrote a week or so ago about this government's shameful record of trying to use Human Rights for their own party political success. I hope that one thing I can do here over the next five years is protect these fundamental rights.
The Queen’s Speech two weeks ago rooted in the proud traditions of British history reminded us all of our responsibilities. Her Majesty has for many years demonstrated the great British virtues of honour and duty. Britain not only has one of Europe’s greatest records of protecting Human Rights, but one of the worlds. The current Tory government however is discussing whether to abandon our internationalist commitment to Human Rights.
In 1950 Britain helped create that first European Convention on Human Rights, indeed it was a Conservative Prime Minister that passed the bill in Parliament confirming our commitment. Respected Member of Parliament and Lawyer Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe indeed led the committee which produced the convention in the first place.
Despite the ECHR’s grounding in British Law, and the English Bill of Rights from 1689, Michael Gove, Justice Secretary and Theresa May, Home Secretary, want to withdraw from it. These leading members of the Conservative government want to enshrine rights in nationality, not humanity.
The Human rights we hold so dear come not from a quirk of birth, but from our shared humanity, and the Prime Minister should remember this in the face of words from his own cabinet. In 2013 the Prime Minister said that he wanted the Commonwealth to “remain a force for good in the world, promoting democracy and human rights”, he must not be dissuaded from this view. 800 years ago Britain led the world with Magna Carta, curbing the caprices of an overbearing executive, and we in Parliament and particularly opposition, must do the same today to ensure rights are protected not squandered. Britain cannot claim to promote Human Rights if we abandon them for a nationalist slogan.
Senior Government ministers may wish to join Belarus, but we cannot lead morally around the world, if we are hand-in-hand with Europe’s last dictatorship. Repealing the Human Rights Act is no way to appease extremists in the government. Having served on the Joint Committee on Human Rights for a few years now, I know that Human Rights are not something we can take for granted, we have to fight for them at every stage.
Britain once led in Europe and on the world stage, we were a beacon of freedom and democracy to millions across the world searching for a better future. This Prime Minister has however, presided over the greatest decline in British influence in a generation. We have world leading universities but this Prime Minister has made it more difficult to come and study here. We have a world leading S-T-E-M sector, but this Prime Minister wants to reduce the number of skilled non-EU migrants allowed to migrate here. We have one of the most highly skilled armies in the world, but this Prime Minister wants to reduce it to its smallest size since the New Model Army.
The United Kingdom will never be able to match the United States or China in Population or GDP, but we can be cultural leaders. This Prime Minister seems content to preside over a slide into insignificance. Taking a risk, having a punt, having a go, may pump the Prime Minister up, but when he is risking not only Britain’s place in the world, but her role as a defender of Human Rights I feel deflated.
Virendra Sharma MP, Ealing, Southall
I have written an article for the Progress website, for their series on Human Rights, on the subject of rethinking counter-terrorism.
Earlier this November, I showed my strong support to the Gurkha community’s fight for equal pension rights by visiting the hunger strikers outside 10 Downing Street and writing to the Prime Minister with their concerns.