The British government is doing more than its fair share in taking responsibility for Syrian child refugees, international development secretary Priti Patel has said.
In an exclusive interview with Eastern Eye, the secretary of state said the UK was taking its moral duties and responsibilities “more seriously than I would argue many others are.”
Her comments follow the government announcement last Wednesday (8) that it would allow just 350 unaccompanied migrants to come to the UK from the Calais “jungle” migrant camp, 200 of whom have already arrived.
The number falls well short of the 3,000 proposed by the original advocate of the scheme, opposition Labour politician Lord Alf Dubs, 84, who himself arrived in Britain as a child fleeing the Nazis.
The government did not specify how many children it would take in when it announced the plan last year, amid widespread concern about the fate of Syrian refugees fleeing to Europe.
Patel said last Thursday (9) that her focus in the first six months of the role had been on the humanitarian crisis in Syria. She has just returned from a two-day visit to Jordan and Lebabanon where Britain is helping to get more children into schools and refugees into the work.
“I have seen children who have seen such horrors and atrocities and those children need all our support, there’s no doubt that they are resilient, but actually that’s going to live with them for a huge amount of time. When they are in a refugee camp, the first thing they tell us is that they feel safe and secure which is a point of reflection of what they have left behind.”
When asked if the UK should be taking in more child refugees, Patel told Eastern Eye that the government had committed to resettling 20,000 Syrians, but that children from the Calais camp was a “separate issue”.
“No one should think this is an easy thing to do, let’s just take children away from their region and bring them here. Settling children who have seen such trauma is very very hard,” Patel said.
“We are the second largest bilateral supporter to Syria…so we are doing more than our fair share and we are taking our moral duties and responsibilities more seriously than I would argue many others are. We should never get conflated about numbers because these are people that have experienced such horrors and such traumas… It’s not for the West to go dictating what the options should be to Syrian refugees we have to work with them to give them the support that they ultimately want.”
Patel launched DfID’s first ever economic development strategy last month, which encourages private investment and export growth in poor countries which in turn may become trading partners with the UK in the future.
Speaking about the scheme from her Whitehall office, the high-profile politician said: “Our job is to alleviate poverty, we cannot do that just through financial aid and food aid, the way you eliminate poverty is through investing in people, jobs and livelihood. That is what the strategy is about, it’s about how we can catalyze investment opportunities in poor parts of the world to get the private sector to come in, to invest in people, skill people, train people and get them employed.”
The department and its spending has come under under increasing scrutiny in the press of late and Patel even called for it to be scrapped and replaced with a department for international trade three years before being placed in charge of DFID.
Figures released by the National Audit Office (NAO) last Thursday (9) revealed that DFID lost £3.2million to fraud over the past five years.
It was in part due to reforms introduced by then prime minister David Cameron to increase funding and assign it to unstable nations according to the NAO.
Patel said her objective was to make sure the department followed the money, people and outcomes of aid. “We must recognise we are working in some of the most horrendous parts of the world, we are delivering aid to Yemen, outside Syria, Afganistan, the most terrifying places in the world where there is no stability and more often than not no functioning governments,” she added.
“That’s a burden that we take but I would argue that we’ve done more than any other international agency….We will continue to find ways we can improve and tighten supply chains. You can never stand still in this place you really can’t.”
In 2015 the UK provided £12.1bn of aid to developing countries, with Pakistan receiving the highest amount of money than any other country with the figure standing at £374 million. India received £186 million followed by Bangladesh which was handed £164.