LibLink: Catherine Bearder MEP: Cameron must wake up and join the EU’s response to the refugee crisis

Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder has written for Left Foot Forward to criticise David Cameron’s decision to take Syrian refugees, as long as they aren’t already in Europe.

Plans are being drawn up to take a limited number of refugees directly from camps on Syria’s borders, but much to the dismay of our EU partners, Cameron continues to rule out taking part in an EU response to the thousands of desperate refugees arriving on Europe’s shores. This may be politically expedient, but it is strategically short-sighted. Only by working together at the EU level can we address the biggest refugee crisis since WW2.

Like Tim Farron, Catherine has now visited Calais to see the camps there for herself:

I met Syrians, Afghans, Eritreans and Sudanese men and children. Many had undergone appalling journeys to get to the camp and were now living in horrendous conditions, all in the hope of one day reaching the UK.

Contrary to public perception, their motives had nothing to do with the British benefits system. Asylum seekers receive around 80 euros a week in France, almost twice what they would get in the UK. The vast majority wanted to reach Britain either because they spoke good English, they had relatives here already or they thought it would be easier to find a job.

What was abundantly clear was that building yet more walls and fences will not deter these desperate people, who have already overcome huge obstacles during their long, perilous journeys. We need a real long-term solution, not more tough-sounding rhetoric and political posturing.

She outlines what is happening at EU level and says that the UK needs to be part of the solution, not the problem:

Next week the European Commission will come forward with a plan that would redistribute up to 160,000 refugees more equally around the EU. This would be the first step in creating an EU-wide system that offers safe and legal routes into Europe, processes asylum requests more efficiently and ensures that all EU countries play their part in offering sanctuary to genuine refugees.

Until such a system is in place, thousands will continue to perish making the perilous journey into Europe and thousands more will continue to be left in limbo in places like Calais, Ventimiglia and Budapest.

I am urging the Conservative government to be part of this European solution and not part of the problem. Let’s take in our fair share of Europe’s refugees, while stepping up joint efforts to tackle the root causes in countries like Syria and Eritrea.

You can read the whole article here.

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  • John Tilley 5th Sep '15 - 11:20am

    Well said Catherine Bearder.

    Cameron has been a disgrace on this issue. Thank goodness our MPs are no longer propping up this dreadful man.

    As if his pathetic response to the realities of refugees across Europe were not bad enough he has now instructed Conservative MPs to start sabre-rattling about putting UK troops on the ground in Syria.

    Are the Conservatives so morally bankrupt that their only solution is to wrap themselves in the flag and hide behind yet another counter productive military action?

    Cameron seems to be incapable of anything better than government by photo-opportunity. It is as if the role of Prime Minister is restricted to appearing on the TV News every evening looking “concerned” and mouthing platitudes.

  • “thousands will continue to perish making the perilous journey into Europe”

    So you’d think Bearder would be pleased that the UK is taking in refugees from closer to Syria, preventing them undertaking such perilous journeys… but not a bit of it.

  • David Evershed 5th Sep '15 - 1:14pm

    It is those african and middle eastern migrants with the resources (physical and cash) who are reaching EU countries and seeking asylum status. These are mostly young men.

    The weak and the poor are left in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Ethiopia, Sudan, Nigeria, Afganistan, Pakistan and so on.

    Germany are currently allowing migrants who reach their borders to stay and be treated as refugees.

    Priorities are surely wrong. The people who are able to reach Germany are likely to be least in need of protection.

    Once the millions of poorer and weaker refugees already in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and elsehere get organised and start moving to Germany, then the border will be closed to such refugees.

    In practice, life is not fair.

  • Jayne Mansfield 5th Sep '15 - 1:56pm

    It is difficult , if not impossible to dissuade people who already fear for their lives from making a decision to embark on a journey where the fear of their lives is real but less than staying put.

    Instead of blaming the victims , who are making rational decisions in the context of their actual lives, politicians of all parties should show moral leadership and address the role of Saudi Arabia in the turmoil that has befallen Syria and those areas of the world where extremism has been exported, and from which refugees are flooding.

    Until that time, can we be described as a moral country as David Cameron, described us? If one is judged by one’s leaders, I think not.

  • Jayne Mansfield you are absolutely right. The role of Saudi Arabia and the supporters/weaponisers is fundamental here but I doubt vested interests will allow that. Lib Dems are supposed to be the party who tackle vested interests but there MPs and parliamentarians are silent on this.

  • * sorry “supporters/weaponisers should say “supporters/weaponisers of ISIS”

  • @John Tilley (sort of continuation from a previous thread – in 3 parts as I’ve written to much)

    A lot has been happening in that last few days, multiple articles and lots of comments, I actually started writing this in the early hours and even now some things may be out of date.
    Some queries I would have of the Lib Dem Party and it’s supporters as a start though, as a party you claim that you like localism and want to empower individuals. Why are so many articles and comments (both here and from Lords/MEPs) about what the Government should do? Why not throw things open to the people? Why have politicians (from all parties) created a state where the first impulse is to ask “But what are the Government doing about it?”.
    1. One of the big problems when these sorts of situations occur is that things become very political, I caught the Cameron news on the BBC whilst driving, the BBC then stated that the former Lib Dem Leader Paddy Ashdown had said something along the lines of “ahhh but it doesn’t help this group, that group or the other group” (tbf, I was driving so my concentration wasn’t really on what exactly was being said – however the gist of the comment invoked a virtual bang of the head on the steering wheel). Because of these sorts of things, I to feel that the politics should (as far as possible) be kept out of any solution…

  • Part 2
    Perhaps all parties could come up with an agreement to pay out the money and stop the point scoring games (that really would require some of the political will that you talked about). Obviously this would apply internally, political cooperation is still required externally.
    2. We need massive public buy in, by that I do not mean the sort of buy in that involves signing a petition calling on politicians to do something. Funnily enough, as we’ve spent a lot of time talking about WW2, we can look to that era for inspiration. It was realised then that the public had to feel that they had a part in the conflict, hence such things as the collection of scrap metal (debatable on it’s material worth, invaluable on the buy in front). We already have charities that collect clothes and food, persuade them to do it for the refugees arriving in the UK, mark collection bins accordingly and run adverstisements explaining the hardships these people will have gone through (please, no sickly background music though). If it’s done correctly then it can generate a large amount of good will towards the refugees who arrive.

  • Part 3
    3. A lot of the people arriving will have physical and mental health problems. Poaching NHS staff to assist with these people is probably not beneficial in the long term. Initially it might work, but after a time people may become resentful of the even longer waiting lists. Again, why not try for public buy in, try to get recently retired medical staff to join the effort – who knows they may be sat at home wondering what the heck they’re supposed to be doing now. We also have plenty of charities that might be able to help e.g. BLESMA for those who’ve lost limbs, other charities will have experience of dealing with PTSD, the likes of the Sally Army spend a lot of time helping the dispossessed and you don’t get much more dispossessed than a refugee. Obviously there are loads more that may help e.g. the IRC or MSF – but for buy in purposes it may be best to try and use as many local charities as possible.

    These are just 3 minor points that could help when refugees get here, obviously many other items need addressing (e.g. housing, why not ask building firms/DIY Stores for donations of material to build the accommodation needed? Good publicity for them, good feeling for those who shop there). Joe Bourke has written some good comments on intervention, do you agree with the gist of what he was saying.

  • Richard Underhill 5th Sep '15 - 4:22pm

    Chris_sh 5th Sep ’15 – 3:07pm What Paddy Asdown said onThe World at One on BBC Radio 4 was that perhaps we should think about changing the definition of a refugee.

  • Richard Underhill 5th Sep '15 - 5:00pm

    Next week’s plan is currently unclear. So is the UK government’s proposed action.
    If the people to be re-distributed are recognised refugees they are free to move around the country that recognised them as refugees, can move to another country with permission and should not be redistibuted against their will.
    If the people to be redistributed have not been recognised by an EU member state or Norway or Switzerland it is possible that they will resist redistribution. The act of doing so creates a risk that the countries less likely to grant some form of status will be resisted by the asylum seekers and creates the possibility of numerous court cases alleging discrimination.
    Is it proposed to undermine the Immigration Rules of 28 member states (plus Norway?) so that illegal entrants can be joined by others who claim to be adult relatives? or is it being alleged that people who have been recognised are not being allowed, perhaps by alleged administrative abuse, to have close family members join them?

    The large number of people in camps adjoining Syria is the main issue. The issues to be addressed are how many of these the UK will accept and whether they have already been recognised as refugees by UNHCR, although not yet by a safe country which has signed the 1951 UN Convention relating to the status of refugees.

  • Hi Richard

    I have to say that it wasn’t a voice clip but a reporter (news reader?) giving their take. There was no mention of redefining refugee status, however it may just have been selective reporting?

  • Why is there never any outcry over the homeless and destitute on our streets now? Are the ‘refugees’ going to be housed and not them? Where are they going to be housed with such a housing shortage for the poorer in our society? Why are our unemployed, poor and sick labelled as scroungers and left with no money due to sanctions? Where are the collection points and fundraising for them? Will they go hungrier and remain homeless? Probably but few will care.

  • Anne, the poor and homeless in our streets get no media coverage.

    The Government does not on the whole care about the poor and homeless, whether in the UK or those seeking refuse from war and persecution. They don’t vote, you see. They only pretend to care when there is media coverage because people who do vote then show they care.

    This also applies to the last government.

  • Anne, the refugees will be housed in military camps until housing is identified for them. This could take years.

  • Of course Catherine is right and we should be part of any EU response but this is unlikely to happen under David Cameron until public opinion is behind this in a really big way. Unless this happens he won’t want to cooperate because this will be seen as legitimising the EU when the referendum is coming up. I think we should be doing as much as possible to get public opinion in favour of supporting refugees and publicising what the EU countries are doing both together and. Independently. There is a strong tradition of helping the vulnerable through TV programmes like Comic Relief so I’m sure many people would wish to help once they know how to.

  • suzanne fletcher 6th Sep '15 - 11:27pm

    I am surprised to see so many negative comments on Catherine’s very good article. She has been and seen, is not just pontificating in an office somewhere.
    Of course more needs to be done about our problems here with destitution, housing etc, but shutting down our borders is not going to help anyone already in the UK.
    As for draining the NHS, very many of the people seeking sanctuary in the UK are skilled and qualified medical practitioners. current government rules do not allow them to work.
    Those wanting to come here, are only doing so as they are fleeing for their lives, and escaping torture, death and no future as homes, communities and friends and relations are destroyed. you don’t leave your homeland, and go through the journeys they are doing for a life on measly beneifts in the UK.
    Yes it is the fittest and most able that are leaving and those left behind need our support as much as is possible to give, David Cameron is right about giving aid, and it is true that the UK, under the coalition government, gave slightly more than the share asked of them, and we can be proud of that, He is also right about needing to take refugees directly from camps next to Syria to save them the treacherous journey, espeically those too weak to do so. However that is not enough, we also need to take our share as a European country taking part in all the benefits of the EU (another debate elsewhere as to whether we should be in the EU).
    Not only is it in the interests of humanity to do what we can, but in years to come we will be all the poorer for not being generous now, there are plenty of stories out there about the huge benefits to us of immigrants over the centuries.

  • I think perhaps we British (or perhaps English) should be a little shamed by the German response to the migrant crisis:

  • Well said Suzanne Fletcher.

  • Jayne Mansfield 7th Sep '15 - 9:49am

    @ SueS , @ Suzanne Fletcher.

    Hear. Hear.

  • Jayne Mansfield 7th Sep '15 - 10:07am

    @ Phyllis,
    There are problems that will have to be faced. However, having listed those problems as some contributors on here have, the next step is to work out how to overcome those problems.

    If we remained at stage 1, we would never do anything about anything. Where is all this , ‘Liberal Democrats are optimistic’ . Liberals put their trust in people’ ? It is only when put to the test, we can determine whether there is any basis for such claims. So far I am not impressed.

    What is for sure, is that it will be impossible to persuade people to help the refugees, if people realise that a politician’s stated convictions are merely hollow words.

  • @suzanne fletcher
    “As for draining the NHS, very many of the people seeking sanctuary in the UK are skilled and qualified medical practitioners. current government rules do not allow them to work.”

    I’m not certain if that was directed at me, but I’ll reply anyway. Yes it is probable that many are qualified, but that isn’t known as a fact and the true figures won’t be known until people are processed. In the meantime the people coming here still need help.
    The point I was trying to make wasn’t about draining the NHS, it was trying to get the general population to buy in big time in practical ways. If that can be done life will be easier for the people who come here.

  • Jayne Mansfield

    Yes I agree with you. I’ve had a tear in my eye watching the amazing kindness of people in Munich and Austria. Even here in the UK I have come across some fantastic efforts to help the people camping in Calais. With the Winter approaching, it is hard to think of people living outside and in such misery.

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