Labour's 'patchy' content

The government needs to be radically more open and transparent about aid spending, writes Shadow Int

Yesterday we had a fantastic international development debate.

We were privileged and humbled to welcome two very different, but equally impressive, international guests to the stage.

Exiled Burmese human rights activist Zoya Phan made a dramatic and emotional speech. Holding aloft heavy iron shackles, she said:

"These shackles were smuggled out of a prison in Burma. This is what those monks who have been arrested will be forced to wear while they face torture, including electric shocks. I asked last year, I ask again and I will ask again and again until we have freedom in Burma. Why isn't there a United Nations arms embargo against the regime?"

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda is the man who has led his country back from the brink of the abyss following the genocide of 1994. He made a compelling and convincing speech that included a passionate plea for rich countries to open up their markets and tear down their tariff barriers. He backed David Cameron's call for a cross-Party worldwide campaign for Real Trade.

During the debate I enjoyed hearing from many of my friends from Project Umubano, the social action project in Rwanda that I helped organise this summer. 43 Conservative volunteers worked on a huge range of development projects in sectors such as health, education, governance and sport.

One of our volunteers, Dr David Tibbutt, spent a moving fortnight in a very remote health centre, where he and a colleague worked 12-hour days and saw some 500 patients - some of whom, almost unbelievably, had never seen a doctor in their lives.

In my speech I set out plans to help more British health professionals follow Dr Tibbutt's example and put something back abroad. I announced that a Conservative Government will establish a new Health Systems Partnership Fund. Worth £5m a year to begin with, it will help fund international placements for British health workers but also support strong, enduring links between the NHS and health systems in poor countries.

I called for the Government to be radically more open and transparent about our aid spending. Well-spent aid can work miracles - but as with everything, we need to keep an eagle eye on it to keep standards high. DfID's website under Labour is almost completely useless. Check it out for yourself: compare the patchy content on the DfID website (www.dfid.gov.uk http://www.dfid.gov.uk/> ) with the wealth of information - financial statements, partnership agreements, evaluation documents, contacts for local auditors - that is up on the Global Fund's site: (http://www.theglobalfund.org/en/ http://www.theglobalfund.org/en/> ). And I also called for DfID to follow the example of the World Bank and set up an anti-corruption hotline on the front page of its website.

Finally, no one should underestimate the importance of conflict prevention and resolution. Over the last year I've seen, in Darfur, Burma and Rwanda, the devastating effects of conflicts, past and present, on the lives of ordinary people. Tackling this scourge must be a top priority for everyone who is passionate about the cause of international development.

European People's Party via Creative Commons
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Ansbach puts Europe's bravest politician under pressure

Angela Merkel must respond to a series of tragedies and criticisms of her refugee policy. 

Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, is supposed to be on holiday. Two separate attacks have put an end to that. The first, a mass shooting in Munich, was at first widely believed to be a terrorist attack, but later turned out to be the actions of a loner obsessed with US high school shootings. The second, where a man blew himself up in the town of Ansbach, caused less physical damage - three were seriously injured, but none killed. Nevertheless, this event may prove to affect even more people's lives. Because that man had come to Germany claiming to be a Syrian refugee. 

The attack came hours after a Syrian refugee murdered a pregnant Polish woman, a co-woker in a snack bar, in Reutlingen. All eyes will now be on Merkel who, more than any other European politician, is held responsible for Syrian refugees in Europe.

In 2015, when other European states were erecting barriers to keep out the million migrants and refugees marching north, Merkel kept Germany's borders open. The country has resettled 41,899 Syrians since 2013, according to the UNHCR, of which 20,067 came on humanitarian grounds and 21,832 through private sponsorship. That is twice as much as the UK has pledged to resettle by 2020. The actual number of Syrians in Germany is far higher - 90 per cent of the 102,400 Syrians applying for EU asylum in the first quarter of 2016 were registered there. 

Merkel is the bravest of Europe's politicians. Contrary to some assertions on the right, she did not invent the refugee crisis. Five years of brutal war in Syria did that. Merkel was simply the first of the continent's most prominent leaders to stop ignoring it. If Germany had not absorbed so many refugees, they would still be in central Europe and the Balkans, and we would be seeing even more pictures of starved children in informal camps than we do today. 

Equally, the problems facing Merkel now are not hers alone. These are the problems facing all of Europe's major states, whether or not they recognise them. 

Take the failed Syrian asylum seeker of Ansbach (his application was rejected but he could not be deported back to a warzone). In Germany, his application could at least be considered, and rejected. Europe as a whole has not invested in the processing centres required to determine who is a Syrian civilian, who might be a Syrian combatant and who is simply taking advantage of the black market in Syrian passports to masquerade as a refugee. 

Secondly, there is the subject of trauma. The Munich shooter appears to have had no links to Islamic State or Syria, but his act underlines the fact you do not need a grand political narrative to inflict hurt on others. Syrians who have experienced unspeakable violence either in their homeland or en route to Europe are left psychologically damaged. That is not to suggest they will turn to violence. But it is still safer to offer such people therapy than leave them to drift around Europe, unmonitored and unsupported, as other countries seem willing to do. 

Third, there is the question of lawlessness. Syrians have been blamed for everything from the Cologne attacks in January to creeping Islamist radicalisation. But apart from the fact that these reports can turn out to be overblown (two of the 58 men arrested over Cologne were Syrians), it is unclear what the alternative would be. Policies that force Syrians underground have already greatly empowered Europe's network of human traffickers and thugs.

So far, Merkel seems to be standing her ground. Her home affairs spokesman, Stephan Mayer, told the BBC that Germany had room to improve on its asylum policy, but stressed each attack was different. 

He said: "Horrible things take place in Syria. And it is the biggest humanitarian catastrophe, so it is completely wrong to blame Angela Merkel, or her refugee policies, for these incidents." Many will do, all the same.