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Chief Minister's statement on refugee response

08 September 2015

The Chief Minister, Senator Ian Gorst, has made the following statement to the States Assembly:

We have all been distressed by the plight of thousands of people fleeing desperate situations in their homelands. Jersey has a long history of responding generously to humanitarian need and we all want to see a long term solution to this crisis.

I have been speaking to my counterpart in Guernsey, Deputy Jonathan Le Tocq, and to our diplomatic contacts in the UK, as this crisis has been unfolding. Given the gravity of the situation and the breadth of concern expressed by islanders, it has been necessary to consider what Jersey can do to help.

Deputy Le Tocq and I have agreed that the Channel Islands should do what they can to contribute to the global refugee response. Before I explain the steps we are taking, I would like to remind Members of the aid Jersey has already provided for Syrian refugees.

Jersey’s Overseas Aid Commission has been supporting Syrian refugees since 2013, and has donated £350,000 to date.

In 2013 the escalating violence saw more than two million children in urgent need of humanitarian assistance as millions of Syrian refugees became displaced in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. The Commission awarded UNICEF £30,000 for medicines and winter clothing; Oxfam £30,000 for food, hygiene kits, clean water and sanitation; and British Red Cross £30,000 for blankets, mattresses and family food parcels.

A further £60,000 was provided to Oxfam to help provide safe access to water and sanitation for nearly 600,000 refugees who had fled to Jordan and Lebanon.

The number of refugees more than doubled between January and October 2013, and by December the Commission was advised that at least 100,000 people had died as a result of the conflict, with an estimated 6.5 million displaced.  The Commission therefore granted Save the Children £30,000, UNICEF £50,000, Oxfam £50,000 and British Red Cross £50,000.

In 2014 there were no applications from aid agencies for emergency help, but the Commission provided nearly £20,000 to transport 12,500 winter jackets collected by the charity Headway for Syrian refugees in Jordan.

Members will be aware that Jersey does not have its own procedures for asylum seekers but is a signatory to the relevant Conventions and Protocols.  The 1951 Refugee Convention was extended to Jersey in 1955 and the New York Protocol in 1996. These conventions stipulate that people should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach. As we do not have processes in place to hear asylum claims, anyone eligible to claim asylum who reaches Jersey would be referred to the UK Home Office, where their claim could be processed.

That said, the Chief Minister of Guernsey and I are determined to do what we can to support the refugee relief effort and have been exploring the possibility of taking some refugee families here in the Channel Islands. Our officials have been liaising with the UK Home Office to take this matter forward and will continue to do so over the coming days.

This process is at an early stage, there are a variety of technical obstacles to overcome and the extent of the assistance we can provide would be dependent on a range of factors. However, I know islanders would want us to do what we can to help these desperate people and I am today announcing the creation of a refugee fund into which islanders can donate. Details of how to donate will be provided later today.

In the meantime, I hope Members will agree that it is important to officially state our willingness to help in this crisis - not only by continuing to provide aid to the agencies working in the region with the most vulnerable, but also by looking at what we can do to help here in the Channel Islands. I congratulate those involved in the Jersey Calais Refugee Aid Group and will meet them next week.

We maintain regular dialogue with Guernsey and the UK on a range of issues, including the ongoing crisis throughout the EU. Our officials will continue to work closely with officials from Guernsey and the UK to develop our participation in the global refugee response.

I will keep Members informed as progress is made. These are complex issues but we all share a common humanity and Jersey, I know, wants to play its part. Indeed, I am sure Members will agree, must play its part.

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