Refugees are not our enemy – thoughts on Priti Patel’s remarks

Embed from Getty Images

Around 4,000 migrants have crossed the channel from France in small boats this year. For context, 105,425 migrants crossed the Mediterranean sea to Southern European countries such as Italy and Greece last year. The overwhelming majority of refugees find sanctuary in the country neighbouring their own. Lebanon, Jordan, Pakistan, Turkey and Uganda are amongst the host countries for the majority of refugees.

Refugees are under no legal obligation to claim asylum in the first safe country they land in. All refugees have a legitimate claim to asylum in any safe country if they are still at risk of persecution in their country of origin. There are just no legal routes to seek refuge in the UK. Seeking asylum should not be a crime.

Refugees often migrate from the first safe country they land in towards the UK, as they may face hostility in those first countries. -They might not speak the language. They may have family ties in the UK which will help them to integrate and thrive, rather than suffer in poverty. On the other hand, refugees often have no say in their final destination and this is entirely dependent on the criminal gangs who smuggle them.

France and other EU states have taken in significantly more refugees as a proportion of the population than the UK. There are five asylum applications per 10,000 people in the UK, compared to 14 for every 10,000 across the EU.

The UK is shirking its obligations to protect refugees.

This should be a cause for shame from one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

Sending a warship to people who have experienced extreme trauma is cruel, inhumane and unnecessary. Addressing the push factors that cause large scale human migrations requires international co-operation. Push factors are things like war, extreme poverty, climate breakdown or religious, political or social persecution.

The UK, as part of the EU, is (until the end of the transition period) part of the Dublin agreement which allows us to send refugees back to the first safe country they land in. Whilst I disagree with this in principle, it is an example of the international cooperation needed to address international issues that the UK has removed itself from.

“Taking back control” of the UK’s borders and making it even harder for people to safely claim asylum in the UK will not stop people from coming. Strong borders are arguably the problem. This isn’t the first time that a Home Secretary has threatened children on rubber dinghies with a naval warship. Sajid Javid flexed this muscle last year to strengthen his Tory leadership bid.

This isn’t about protecting “the British people” from the existential threat of “migrants”. This is about political posturing and an increasingly unpopular government scapegoating vulnerable people for their own benefit. Try to imagine your feelings if, when seeing pictures of crying children in unsafe boats landing safely on UK shores, you feel anger or hostility.

If the government genuinely cared about the suffering these people face, they would create safe and legal routes for asylum seekers to the UK which would prevent them from being exploited by criminal gangs. They would increase international spending on resettlement programmes, work with the international community to reduce global poverty, stop selling arms to corrupt regimes. But they aren’t doing that because they do not care. Don’t let them corrupt you with their divide and rule propaganda.

Refugees are not your enemy.

* Clementine Leaver has formerly worked with (Lord) Tony Greaves.

Read more by or more about , , or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • You can argue that some refugee problems were squarely of Western interference. Sadaam Hussein was toppled but it lead to power struggles fighting it out.Syria being destroyed. Lebanon also. The destruction that war brings,destroyed schools,hospitals businesses,homes make people flee to get away from the turmoil to rebuild their lives. The money is unimportant as to where it comes from but everybody will wish to live in a peaceful place. The overseas budget that we have (to be used for UK benefit) could be used to supervise new buildings WITH STRINGS ATTACHED eg UK organisations supervise the distribution of the funds so that the funds are used where needed. Make a country safe and prosperous people will not need to migrate to allow the Farages of this world to spread hate.

  • David Evershed 11th Aug '20 - 5:09pm

    What is so bad about France that people there want to risk their lives and come across the Channel to England in dingies?

  • richard underhill. 11th Aug '20 - 5:18pm

    Constant repetition by media is trying to change the law. The 1951 Convention is basically a consequence of what the Nazis did, hence the inclusion criteria (normally met) and the exclusion criteria, (often a basis of refusal). This is a complicated issue. It is better not to speak on the issue unless you know what you are doing. Coming from Somalia is not a reason for a grant of asylum, despite the chaotic state of the country.
    Combining an asylum claim with a human rights claim led to an immigration judge condemning the revised process, applicants’ solicitors started to ask caseworkers to consider every human rights article whether applicable or not, just trying to overwhelm the system. The sheer volume of applications created circumstances in which papers were filed out of order, Country information, such as happened when Pakistan became a democracy affected large numbers of unqualified cases based on claimed support for a particular political party and led to semi-automatic refusals and justice delayed.

  • @David
    France doesn’t give them food, money and hotel accommodation.

  • richard underhill. 11th Aug '20 - 5:20pm

    n hunter 11th Aug ’20 – 4:55pm
    Did you omit Zimbabwe?

  • richard underhill. 11th Aug '20 - 5:40pm

    n hunter 11th Aug ’20 – 4:55pm
    Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait was not caused by western countries. He set fire to all the oil fields but it was western expertise that put the fires out without causing other fires.

  • This is all fine, but I am always left with the nagging feeling that not many of these refugees will end up in Bath, Oxford West or Abingdon, St. Albans, Kingston or Surbiton ….

  • @Ed, you could always invite them to share your home.

    I jest, but the rhetoric is all about poor, war ravaged families struggling to find safety. I’m sure these exist but I bet they are more than happy to reach safety where ever that happens to be.

    The ones crossing the Channel are mostly young, single men, economic migrants and not fleeing for their lives. I don’t blame them for their determination to find a better economic life but if we open our borders to welcome them, half the planet’s young ambitious men will be here in no time.

  • John Marriott 11th Aug '20 - 7:13pm

    Refugees or economic migrants? Discuss.

  • John Marriott 11th Aug '20 - 7:34pm

    If you could guarantee that every person trying to get into the UK was either a refugee or an asylum seeker, I might listen to you. So I’m asking ‘unworthy’ questions, am I? What gives you the right to judge me thus? I might take heed of what you are saying if you revealed who you really are.

  • Richard Easter 11th Aug '20 - 8:14pm

    With 60,000 dead, unemployment rising and the possible long term implications of the virus not fully understood, it is quite mental that all the fury is over a few people in dinghies.

  • Tony Greaves 11th Aug '20 - 10:06pm

    Well said, Clemmy. The Government’s approach is quite shameful.

  • Michael Sammon 12th Aug '20 - 2:01am

    There’s no such thing as an illegal asylum seeker. Let’s listen to their case for asylum before discussing wether they are illegal immigrants.

  • It should be question of the law. At the moment, people are breaking into the country with no punishment. You either punish them by immediately returning them or you change the law so that it is not illegal to break into the country. At the moment, the law is being undermined and that ends up bringing other laws into question, if someone can get away with breaking into the country why punish someone for breaking into a house, etc? If you want to welcome all to the country then it would be via referendum, let the people decide.

    I do agree that the politicians are being hypocritical when they say they want to stop it to protect the refugees. With govn funds disappearing, welfare costs rising due to increased unemployment and housing costs paradoxically increasing there is no slack in the system to help poor refugees so not sure where the LibDems can take this, other than members personally taking on a refugee by housing and feeding them until they get on their feet.

  • Peter Martin 12th Aug '20 - 8:30am

    “… it is quite mental that all the fury is over a few people in dinghies.”

    I agree. (except over the word ‘mental’ in this context 🙂 )The number of refugee entries via boat will be far lower than those who arrive at airports. It’s all quite irrational. But judging by the conversation in my local yesterday everyone is going to be quite irrational so there’s won’t be any votes in rationality. The consensus of opinion was that the French won’t co-operate until we concede on fishing rights.

    I’ve seen all this before in Australia and the outcome wasn’t good.

  • >Refugees are not our enemy
    Agree, however their numbers a just a symptom of a much bigger problem which is the one we really should be addressing.

    >Refugees or economic migrants? Discuss
    I suggest that if the migrant is not in a family group and has wife/family back ‘home’ or when asked by the media state their objective is to get to England then they are most likely to be economic migrants.

  • suzanne fletcher 12th Aug '20 - 9:53am

    Great article by Clemmie, and spot on. Her stats show very clearly how we are not being “overrun” by those wanting to claim asylum here.
    Clemmie was one of the very first committee members of LD4SOS in 2013, and remember her well. A later LD4SOS member Bradley Hillier Smith has just had this article published in the Observer and in May our chair, Clive Sneddon wrote this piece

  • Antony Watts 12th Aug '20 - 10:04am

    Correct response, “Well done you made it, come in. What do you need?”

  • suzanne fletcher 12th Aug '20 - 10:16am
  • Daniel Walker 12th Aug '20 - 10:37am

    @Frank West “It should be question of the law. At the moment, people are breaking into the country with no punishment. You either punish them by immediately returning them or you change the law so that it is not illegal to break into the country

    Let’s speak of the law, then, Frank. It’s not illegal to cross the channel in a boat, obviously, and nor is it illegal to claim asylum. (you can be charged with unlawful entry if you don’t claim asylum, however) Asylum seekers are not obliged to claim asylum in the first safe country in which they find themselves. So they’re not breaking the law, in fact, even if their claims are rejected.

    @Michael Sammon “Let’s listen to their case for asylum before discussing wether they are illegal immigrants.

    Even if their claims are rejected they only become unlawfully resident if they do not leave once all their appeals are exhausted, so there’s not much to discuss there!

  • Enthusiastic welcomes and open border policies for what are undoubtedly economic migrants are not going to endear this party to the average voter.

    But then, the views expressed here suggest that any migrants should be welcome whatever the definition and whatever the voters think. That is very admirable and no doubt the people here feel proud about that. But they will also have to learn to be satisfied with their core vote of about 7%.

  • Tony Greaves 12th Aug '20 - 3:06pm

    There is a serious problem with LDV in that a deeply Liberal article such as this one is invariably met with trolling by people who are clearly not Liberals or liberals and often the same small group of people. If we want LDV to be a good vehicle for sensible debate among Liberals and liberals it’s time some of these people were politely invited to go somewhere else. In my view!

  • David Evershed

    ‘What is so bad about France that people there want to risk their lives and come across the Channel to England in dingies?’

    Not as generous benefits system as UK?

    Better job prospects as these are clearly economic migrants & not asylum seekers,if they were the later then they would have had to opportunity to claim asylum in a number of countries they travel through or indeed in France.

  • john oundle 12th Aug '20 - 3:22pm

    Tony Greaves

    So anyone that doesn’t happen to agree with you is either trolling or not a liberal?

    Also comments you disagree with prevent sensible debate,so debate is OK as long as everyone agrees with you?

    Indeed a liberal that wants censorship

  • “breaking into a country”
    Britain has invaded nearly every country in the world at one time or another.

  • “it’s time some of these people were politely invited to go somewhere else. In my view!”
    Not very liberal but you are aware that moderation is applied to some sensitive subjects so that only the correct view is expressed? You end up with the MP’s grinning broadly, thinking that the whole country agrees with them… and that way madness lays.

  • @Tony Greaves. Please feel free to address me directly with your criticism.

    We should treat genuine refugees with compassion but I have much less sympathy for economic migrants who try to enter our country illegally. I think most people share that view. The party has been soul searching for the last six months about why it does not have more support at elections. I believe this is a relevant example.

    You may see this as trolling, I see this as sensible debate. You make it clear that I am not welcome and no doubt some others here agree with you. I have often had very constructive and enjoyable debates with some of your open minded colleagues and I have sometimes given enthusiastic support to articles that I agree with.

    I have been a supporter of this party but not since the party moved further to the left. I think it is healthy for debate like this to provide feedback. You obviously do not agree. Perhaps you want to cancel me for having inconvenient views.

  • Pater: “moved further to the left”. What was the starting point? We seem to be in the same mould as we were in 2010, when were allied to a right wing party and government?
    Very hard to depict anything particular that is left wing in our policies, I wish there were!!!!.

  • Many years ago there was a china shop displaying a notice which read, “If you break it you own it”…
    Before the West (mainly US/UK) embarked on military ‘adventures’ in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria there was a trickle of refugees from these countries; since then it has become a flood.
    As Clementine Leaver points out the UK has taken less than 4% of those arriving in Europe and only a third, per head of population, of our EU neighbours (most of whom had no part in creating this problem)…I’d suggest that, far from playing our part, we have shirked our responsibility, especially to children.

    As for a ‘migrant invasion’ this is the rhetoric of Farage and a Tory government desperate to manufacture an external threat to avoid the scrutiny that their internal incompetence should engender. I’m only surprised that they haven’t used ‘Spitfires and Lancasters’ to drop leaflets informing refugees that “We’ll fight them on the beaches”..

  • I agree with expats that as a nation we should take more genuine refugees. We do not pull our weight. Others would claim that we are a small, overcrowded country and we more than pull our weight in foreign aid, much of it directed at looking after refugees close to the place from which they fled. They say that this is less of a culture, climate and language shock and they can more readily return home, which is what they wish to do, when it is safe.

    I still make the point about economic migrants and I don’t think it helps the LD case to muddle the two groups up. That is really where our views differ. Why should economic migrants be given the status of genuine refugees?

  • @Peter Wrigley. please forgive me for not giving you straight answers. You raise complex issues about amnesties which require serious thought and some legal expertise.

    I am a little concerned that your debate includes references to “poisonous prejudices”. Earlier comments, from another, refer to the “venomous right wing”.

    I have a suggestion. Illegal immigration causes feelings to rise and tempers to flare. Hardship and obstacles placed in the way of Refugees seeking safety rightly does the same. Let us not confuse the two, then we might have more agreement and make more progress on behalf of genuine refugees.

  • Tony Greaves 12th Aug '20 - 8:43pm

    @peter I do not usually debate with people who are not willing to use their own real names. It is in my view a curse of the internet and particularly social media and is fundamentally undemocratic. And since you admit you ae not even a supporter of this party why are you here, wasting the time of the rest of us?

  • Nonconformistradical 12th Aug '20 - 10:01pm

    @Tony Greaves
    The volunteer team who run LDV permit use of pseudonames in the public part of the forum – see

    Some people may have very good reasons for posting anonymously (e.g. if someone in a politically restricted job has something useful to contribute to a discussion then there may be no other option. Or they might be a whistleblower. Or they have personal safety fears.)

    As someone who uses a pseudoname here I will be polite when posting here and try to engage in constructive debate.

  • John Marriott 13th Aug '20 - 9:32am

    @Tony Greaves
    I don’t usually ‘debate‘ with members of the House of Lords, as I see no point for it in its present form. However, l’ll make an exception in your case. As a keen follower of politics, and a former practitioner for many years as well, I am aware of who you are and of your impeccable Liberal credentials. I could never compete with you on that score.

    However, your definition of debate intrigued me. It would seem to mean, “I am right and you are wrong, so just leave me and other true liberals alone“. Is that what they now call ‘platforming’? It must be great to be so certain of what you believe. I’m afraid that I cannot match that. I do agree with you, however on the use of pseudonyms. It makes me wonder what some people have to hide.

    It would appear that your ‘advice’ to non believers, in effect, to go away and multiply, has not gone down well. Quite right, as I have always considered LDV to be welcoming to those who are prepared to venture outside their comfort zone.

    So how about ‘debating’ the comments of former Aussie PM Kevin Rudd (I think), who told would-be immigrants that they would never achieve residence unless they went through the legally recognised channels. That makes sense to me.

  • John Marriott 13th Aug '20 - 11:01am

    Sorry, that should have read ‘no platforming‘.

  • Peter
    I know some refugees and the hardships they face. I know some Iranians who have converted to Christianity.No doubt some would instantly declare them to be economic migrants.

  • Peter Hirst 13th Aug '20 - 5:30pm

    If people really want to come to our country with all its faults, we should embrace them with open arms. Seeing a boat load shout UK enthusiastically on Sky News was heart warming. It is ridiculous that the only way they can do so is by risking their lives.

  • It’s nice to see the majority of Liberals from across the generations sharing liberal beliefs on this issue.

  • roger Roberts 14th Aug '20 - 8:38am

    What a great article by Clemmie. It warms my heart and is oi supportive of what we;ll try to do with the Immigration bill in the Lords.

  • England is full.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Martin Gray
    Centrist governments support the rules of international order. Sadly , when it comes to the Palestine those rules , those values , have all but been abandoned...
  • Peter Hirst
    For all its faults, America remains a democracy and we must retain our links. Brexit allows us to show flexibility in our strategic relations. We must now allow...
  • David Raw
    As a long time student of political history who first joined (and was employed by) the Liberal Party way back in 1962, I've come to believe that the basic quali...
  • Peter Hirst
    Putting country before party seems to me to be quite apposite in the context of the last decade. The Party system is a weakness of our present structures. It is...
  • Peter Hirst
    If we really wish to change this country then we must have an eye for the next election. Many new MPs will want to retain their seats. We must win the popular d...