No Refuge in the UK

Ethan Humphreys

Who doesn’t love a bit of Theresa May? She’s a wonderful woman right? Right… She has an astoundingly impressive career history of being an MP since 1997, becoming the first ever female Conservative Party Chair, being the longest serving Home Secretary in 60 years and prior to that she worked in the Bank of England. Pretty great for someone with a Geography degree. Anyhow, the issue at hand is how her Prime Ministerial record is going to be shaped and her stance on the refugee crisis and immigration is key to that.

At the UN Summit on the 19th of September Theresa May established three main points: to assist refugees in seeking asylum at the first safe country they arrive at, a clearer distinction between refugees and economic migrants and the responsibility to stop uncontrolled migration. She framed her speech before the General Assembly in such a way to make it seem like it was motivated by the desire to help those in desperate need; that not just addressing the “symptoms” of the problem but “address[ing] the root causes” is what needed to be done. An obvious enough statement. But one with seemingly little truth to it to reflect the misleading sentiment.

May and her supporters see this as absolutely essential to managing the problem of “uncontrolled mass migration”. They sat that without a rethink and reorganisation of refugee management then both the refugees and the countries they are travelling to will suffer as a result. This is because the refugees are exposed to more danger along their travels and that mass popular movement badly affects host country resources and popular support for refugees, once more badly affecting the outlook for the refugees themselves.

You look around and the criticisms have been plenty. Both Yvette Cooper and David Miliband (head of the International Rescue Centre) have criticised the UK’s pledge to settle 20,000 Syrians over by 2020, whilst the US had already admitted 10,000 Syrian refugees by the 31st of August and Canada is has reached 25,000 with plans to resettle 10,000 more by the end of the year as well as aiming to admit 59,400 refugees by the end of 2016. Obviously, the US and Canada are much larger countries, but the rate at which they are admitting is much greater than that of the UK regardless and something the UK should aspire to move towards at some rate or another. This is not to be misinterpreted though, just because the Canada and the US are doing better than the UK does not mean it is setting a good enough standard.

The thing is that Theresa May really did miss an opportunity to work in coalition with Barack Obama and set an improved international standard on refugees. But, the number game is not the only place May’s government is slacking. May’s desire for a clearer distinction between refugees and economic migrants is a way to diminish the chance of refugees to successfully. 

Under the Refugee Convention (part of the Geneva Convention) the principles of non-discrimination, non-penalisation and non-refoulement: which states that a refugee must not be sent back to their country if they face serious danger to their life or freedom. The Convention goes further to assert that refugees shouldn’t be penalised for illegal entry, recognising that they may have to break immigration rules. I mean, come on, Syrians, Afghanistani, Somalians, Iraqis, South Sudanese, Palestinians, the list goes on, they are all fleeing in complete terror from the violence, the destruction, the chaos, the diabolical atrocities, the injustices going on in their country, they are bound to use any means and go to any distance to find refuge and seek a quality of life better than that of constantly being on the edge of death.

This stance of May’s is really just a continuation of what she was as Home Secretary: she already had plans to reduce asylum seekers and refugees and even though she very quietly campaigned against Brexit, she supported a strong reduction in immigration (contradictory, I know). This makes it all the more unsurprising.

I don’t know about you but I didn’t realise that the grand notion of ‘fighting against the burning injustices’ (May’s opening speech as PM) was actually a completely closed-off statement restricted only to British people. She spoke about the issues of race, of disadvantage socioeconomic background, of gender inequality, of mental health struggles, of class struggles, of all kinds of struggles, a sentiment that implicitly seems to extending further than that of a One-Nation Tory and taking a very humanitarian standpoint. So many of these struggles she spoke of are not just local to the UK and humanitarian concern as she appeared to show is not bounded to only your home nation, it is universal.

What makes it all the more hypocritical is that May voted in favour of Iraq (which the Chilcot report condemned), Libya (which a recent Foreign Affairs Committee report condemned) and Syria. All of which have majorly contributed to the internal warfare, deaths, the bombings worsening this, the displacement of peoples and the refugee crisis.

May has repeatedly claimed that she is approaching it this way in order to stop unmanaged mass migration and to benefit both countries with refugees fleeing and countries with refugees coming. I guess there is a bit of positivity in that she has shown her backing for the Dubs Amendment to allow 3,000 unaccompanied children to be admitted to the UK as soon as possible, which is believe to be the UK’s fair share of the 26,000 child refugees who entered the EU last year alone (calculated by Save the Children).

Little has that changed. Even with this Amendment, the UK is only admitting 20 children this week from Calais under the Dublin Regulation, despite Red Cross identifying 187 children eligible to come to the UK. May seems to get herself very confused on this issue in spite of her being the longest serving Home Secretary in 60 years, backing an amendment to deliver the resettlement of 3,000 children and then accepting her current Home Secretary Amber Rudd saying it will be a “good result” if 300 children are resettled from Calais. Lacking the ability to use every expletive there is… all that can be said is this is frankly an absolutely, shockingly, disgustingly abysmal effort by the UK Government, this is a complete rebuff of any kind of humanitarian commitment. 

A bit of a tangent, but thrown into the mix is Priti Patel’s plans to “challenge and reform” (speaking in front of the International Development Committee) through “wealth creation, not aid dependency” (writing in the Daily Mail) which appears to be a very a very admirable policy. She believes this will be achieved through greater trade and investment, which in our current global financial system given mainly Western economic dominance, comes across as more of a way to benefit UK economics rather that genuinely assist poorer countries. The principle is fair, but the intentions seem not to be. Less support leads to greater poverty, much greater likelihood of immigration, greater internal instability and much more chance of more refugees.

The point is, that developing countries with much less economic capability and resources are taking 86% of the worlds refugees. Turkey is hosting 2.5-2.7 million refugees, Pakistan 1.6 million, Lebanon has 183 refugees per 1,000 inhabitant (UNHCR). These much, much, much poorer countries are taking a seriously disproportionate strain of the refugee crisis despite the West playing a disproportionate role in exacerbating the conflicts in the Middle East in particular.

Britain should be at the forefront of leading a global effort to do more about the handling of the refugee crisis. They should be sticking to their commitments to resettle 3,000 poor, innocent child refugees without parents, they should be showing better leadership at UN summits and not distastefully adding to the stigma of refugees and (by association) immigrants. This whole refugee rhetoric is in some ways working in conjunction with the divisive policies and rhetoric surrounding immigrants too, such as those put forward by Amber Rudd recently (namely companies posting lists of internationals employed by their company). It is in many ways selfish, divisive and simply upsetting to see. As the French interior minister (Cazeneuve) said, it’s time for “Britain to assume its moral duty”.