Joanna Cherry – 2020 Speech on Refugees at the Turkey-Greece Border

Below is the text of the speech made by Joanna Cherry, the SNP MP for Edinburgh South West, in the House of Commons on 10 March 2020.

I thank the Minister for his answer. Last Friday, I met my constituent Sally Wainwright to hear about her experiences as a volunteer helping refugees and migrants on the Greek islands. As tensions have risen, mobs have attacked press and aid workers, refugee facilities have been set on fire and non-governmental organisations have had to pull out.

It is clear that the 2016 deal between the EU and Turkey is breaking down. Last week, Turkey decided to open its borders with Greece, and it even bussed migrants close to the north-western border. We have seen the troubling pictures of hundreds of refugees or migrants attempting to land small boats on the Greek islands. Tens of thousands of people have headed for the land border and become trapped between Turkey and Greece. Greece has halted all asylum claims for a month and sent riot police and border guards to turn people back, to deter them from entering the country. Aggressive measures have been employed, and we have seen migrants stripped naked and beaten before being sent back across the border. We have had reports of a refugee being shot dead by live ammunition and of a child dying at sea.

Yesterday, as the Minister said, President Erdoğan visited Brussels for talks, and there have been reports that the EU is considering taking up to 1,500 child refugees from the Greek islands to ease the pressure on the overwhelmed camps. My constituent tells me that hundreds of those child refugees are unaccompanied. In the Prime Minister’s Greenwich speech on 3 February, he said that

“the UK is not a European power by treaty or by law but by irrevocable facts of history and geography and language and culture and instinct and sentiment.”

British citizens such as my constituent Sally have lived up to that sentiment and done what they can. I want to know what the UK Government are going to do on the ground to ease this humanitarian disaster.

The Government have also spoken about protecting vulnerable children and said that that will remain a priority after Brexit, so may I ask the Minister three specific questions? First, can he tell us what the UK is going to do to ease the plight of child refugees, particularly the unaccompanied ones, on the Greek islands? Secondly, what representations have the UK Government made to Greece and Turkey to end the human rights abuses that have been reported and to ensure that Greece follows the rule of law in relation to asylum applications? Thirdly, how will the UK Government assist the British non-governmental organisations that have been forced to suspend their operations amid concerns about the safety of their staff and their volunteers?