Opinion: Refugees are people too

I recently watched a television programme in which Ross Kemp looks at the situation in Calais, where thousands of refugees are seeking to gain access to the UK in the most dangerous manner.

I have no special knowledge of the situation there, nor from what they are fleeing – who can? But I do know that seeing the programme has made me deeply ashamed of being European. Not being a citizen of the European Union, but being a member of a large community that has not yet addressed the issue of how we can help people in such dire straits.

There is clearly a difference between economic migrants and refugees from the world’s trouble spots, although some commentators appear unable to see this and group everyone who wants to come to our country in the same category. This is grossly unfair. Nobody would willingly undergo the sort of conditions in which these human beings exist in northern France unless there was a real imperative making them flee their homes and families to find safety.

This is not a problem for France, nor specifically the UK, which is where these individuals are trying to reach. It is an issue for everyone in Europe who has any empathy with suffering. We cannot simply say it is none of our business. Nor can France absolve itself from its responsibilities towards those who need to escape from such terrible conditions at home. Neither can Italy and the other European nations through which the migrants travel, but do not have to register due to the freedom of movement granted by the Schengen agreement.

There are also many countries in Europe that are not directly affected by the issue.

I would argue, however, that the humanitarian crisis represented by those camping outside Calais is the responsibility of everyone living in Europe – indeed the world. We cannot sit back and simply watch television programmes about the situation and then feel that we have done our part. We need to press the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Council of the European Union to find and pay for a Europe-wide solution to this humanitarian crisis that enables genuine refugees to live with dignity amongst us, until such time as they feel it is safe for them to return home.

It has been estimated that there were 500 million people living in the EU in 2014. If everyone were to give £1 to help house these refugees in comfortable surroundings and to feed them, the problem would be so much larger. Would it encourage even more people to leave their homes and seek refuge in Europe? Well ask yourself this. Would you voluntarily give up everything to go in search of an uncertain future, in the hope of being treated humanely for a few years until it was safe to go home again? I am not sure that being housed and fed safely would be sufficient incentive, unless the imperative to leave was very great indeed – such as the risk of life and limb.

We must take responsibility for this situation. To do any less is to be less than human ourselves.

* Stephen Phillips spent his entire career in financial services, spending the last decade writing on insurance, investments, pensions and mortgages. Latterly, he also wrote a monthly economic review that was issued to the clients of a large number of independent financial advisers. He has been a member of the party since 2013.

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  • Eddie Sammon 16th Feb '15 - 7:54pm

    Stephen Phillips, this is a good article. More and more of the world is descending into violent anarchy and I think helping refugees and those at Calais is a good cause.

    Not everything is our direct responsibility, but I would much rather deal with international humanitarian crises such as this than trying to create utopia within our own borders.

  • ‘Where thousands of refugees are trying to gain access to the UK’

    If they were genuine refugees they would of course have claimed asylum in France,but they choose not to do that so lets at least give them their correct name economic migrants,nothing wrong in that, but lets not pretend something else.

  • Helen Tedcastle 17th Feb '15 - 12:12pm

    I agree. Good article. Also I think the UK needs to do more to support the Italians in dealing with the huge numbers of migrants crossing the Mediterranean to Lampedusa. Apparently, the boats leave from Libya and so with the growing ISIL threat in that country, it’s even more vital that the seas are patrolled. The other terrible problem is the exploitation by traffickers of these desperate people and the high number of deaths at sea.

    The other issue of course is much deeper and has to do with the mass displacement of persons from Syria and Somalia in particular.

    I don’t see how we as a country can walk by on the other side while this is going on at Europe’s borders.

  • Malcolm Todd 17th Feb '15 - 2:39pm

    I think there’s an assumption, usually unstated, that if you’re “really” a refugee then you just sort of fall across the border and take up residence wherever you happen to have landed. Perhaps based on the assumption that you’re only really a refugee if you’ve literally left the country running, with the police/army at your feet and taking nothing but the clothes on your back. But life’s not like that. People hold on and hold on for as long as they can, but seeing which way the wind is blowing make what plans they can to get out; and if they’ve got time to pick and choose where they land up, then they will. Why on earth wouldn’t they? Why wouldn’t you? (For example, if I were fleeing Britain for fear of persecution in some future, and was offered a seat on a plane to Mexico, I might well take it, with every intention of then trying to get into the US – because I speak English, not Spanish, and I think I’d get on better there. Should I be obliged to stay in Mexico just because that was the first place I set foot? Am I not a refugee as soon as I cross the border from my home country? I don’t believe that makes sense at all.)

    There’s also an unspoken assumption that there is a cast-iron difference between refugee and economic migrant. Again, why should there be? If you’re poor you’ve probably got less ability to resist persecution, you’re less likely to have assets abroad and friends who might take you in. What manifests as petty harassment to a rich man may well become vicious repression if you’re poor. Can you be so sure of telling the difference?

  • Stephen

    ‘1. Can we be sure that they are, in fact economic migrants and, if so, what is the evidence for this?
    What is the evidence that they are not economic migrants, every single news bulletin shows young men , since when were asylum seekers male only?

    2. Are they in a position to claim asylum, or are they being trafficked through several countries in Southern &/or Eastern Europe?
    They are clearly in a position to claim asylum in France or the first European country they arrive in.

    3. When in France, how long does the asylum process take – evidence from the television programme suggests it is an unbelievably slow process.
    Just like the UK it depends on the applicant.
    4. Is the draw of language something that makes them prefer to live in England, rather than France, Italy or elsewhere, where a new language would have to be learned? (This might not apply in respect of some countries of origin.)
    When has language preference been a criteria for asylum,earlier on you were saying that they were fleeing persecution ,the language of the country they claim asylum in would surely be the last thing on their minds if they were genuinely fleeing persecution.

  • Helen Tedcastle 17th Feb ’15 – 12:12pm
    “….,, the UK needs to do more to support the Italians in dealing with the huge numbers of migrants crossing the Mediterranean ”

    Yes — the weekly if not daily deaths in The Mediterranean are appalling.
    Mainstream UK media is mostly Ignoring this. Ch 4 News beng the admirable exception.

    Innocent people escaping from the religious maniacs of The Daesh in Libya, Syria and Iraq are willing to risk drowning at sea and who can blame them?

    The situation at Calais is appalling and unnecessary but seems less of a scandal than the deaths in The Mediterranean.

    The answer is definitely for all European countries to act together. It is a Europe-wide responsibility.

    It is a good example of how the UKIP mentality is so ridiculous and how we need to solve such problems at a level above and beyond that of the so-called nation state.

  • @ Malcolm Todd

    ” I think there’s an assumption, usually unstated, that if you’re “really” a refugee then you just sort of fall across the border and take up residence wherever you happen to have landed”

    I don’t think this is an assumption at all, it is simply the rules of asylum, that you ask for asylum in the first safe country you enter.
    In no shape or form can crossing multiple borders to get to the country where you think you will be better off economically be considered asylum according to Article 1.

    If you want people to accept the rules of asylum for people genuinely under personal threat, then stop debasing it as a sap to liberal guilt as a free for all route for the 2 billion people in the third world who would come here tommorow given the chance.


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