In the past few weeks we have witnessed distressing scenes as thousands of people flee desperate situations in their homelands. More than 300,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe so far this year. Jersey has a long history of responding generously to humanitarian need and I believe it is right that we do what we can to ease the plight of these refugees, just as we have done in the past. This issue is one of the biggest challenges facing countries across Europe and we all want to see a long term solution.
As this crisis has been unfolding I have been speaking to my counterpart in Guernsey, Deputy Jonathan Le Tocq, and to our government contacts in the UK. Given the gravity of the situation and the breadth of concern expressed by Islanders, I have felt it necessary to consider what Jersey can do to help.
Deputy Le Tocq and I have agreed that the Channel Islands should contribute in some way to the global refugee response. This would not be a new departure for us as Jersey has already provided aid for Syrian refugees. Deputy Carolyn Labey, who chairs the Jersey Overseas Aid Commission, has confirmed that the Commission has been supporting Syrian refugees since 2013, and has donated £350,000 to date.
In 2013 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 bedding and family food parcels. A further £60,000 was given to Oxfam for water and sanitation for nearly 600,000 refugees.
By December 2013 the Commission granted another £180,000 to Save the Children, UNICEF, Oxfam and the British Red Cross. 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 Headway to Jordan.
The Chief Minister of Guernsey and I are determined to do what we can to support the refugee relief effort. We have signed up to all the relevant Conventions and Protocols which state that people should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach. We do not have our own asylum processes so anyone eligible to claim asylum who reaches Jersey would be referred to the UK Home Office, where their claim could be processed.
As the UK pursues a comprehensive approach that tackles the causes of the problem as well as the consequences, we have been exploring the possibility of offering homes to some refugee families from the camps on the Syrian borders. Our officials have been liaising with the UK Home Office and will continue to do so over the coming days and weeks.
This process is at an early stage and the precise nature of the support we can offer is still being developed. As Jersey is a small island we could only accommodate a limited number of refugee families, but I know islanders would want us to do what we can to help these desperate people and we are establishing a fund into which islanders can donate to help any families that are accommodated here.
I believe it is important to make clear our willingness to help those in need, not only by continuing to provide aid to the agencies working in the region, 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 but it is also important that we do not undermine the UK’s borders by providing an alternative entry point.
The issue of migrants in Europe is a complex one and it will need to be resolved by combined action from the EU, but we all share a common humanity and I hope we can come together to stand up for our values and play our part in the global refugee response.