Lifestyle, Manchester

Student Voice: Who is responsible for Europe’s refugee crisis?

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By Bridget Taylor


The issue of immigration has been a hot topic in recent months, becoming particularly prevalent in the recent political debate around the EU Referendum. The official Leave side stirred up anti-migrant sentiment throughout the campaign, at one point even putting up a billboard likened to Nazi propaganda, which undoubtedly contributed to a rise in the number of reported hate crimes in the aftermath of the vote. However, leading Tory politicians on the Remain side have been little better in their use of rhetoric and policy decisions.

Ex-Prime Minister David Cameron infamously referred to refugees arriving in Calais as a “bunch of migrants” and a “swarm”, therefore belittling and dehumanising them. Also then Home Secretary Theresa May initiated a drive to enable illegal immigrants to return to their country of origin, by getting vans with ‘go home’ emblazoned on the side to drive around London. This tactic was of course completely ineffective, and it was shocking that such typically racist language could be used by an official government policy. May has since repeatedly committed herself to reducing net migration to the tens of thousands. At a time when there was, until recently, thousands of refugees seeking help from the UK in the camp in Calais alone, this policy appears extremely callous at best.

In 2015, 1.8 million people fleeing conflict arrived in Europe. According to Frontex, the EU’s external border force, the majority of these were a result of the Syrian civil war. However, since the war began in 2011, 11 million Syrian citizens have been displaced, 6.5 million within Syria, and most of the remaining refugees have fled to neighbouring countries such as Lebanon. In this context, Europe is not experiencing a refugee ‘crisis’ on the same level as many poorer Middle Eastern nations. The next highest numbers of refugees coming to Europe are from Afghanistan and Iraq, countries which have seen long and bloody conflicts in recent years. Western governments have intervened in both these conflicts and in both cases have not succeeded in bringing resolution, but have in fact increased sectarian tensions, devastating infrastructure and propping up corrupt regimes. These interventions in the region, and the anti-Western feelings which have arisen as a result of them, have directly contributed to the rise of Daesh (so-called Islamic State) which has displaced over 3 million people in Iraq alone.

Since European nations (particularly the UK) have contributed to the causes of the crisis, it is wrong for these same nations to abdicate all responsibility for the fallout. Yet that has been the most common reaction. Although the German government instigated an open door policy in response to the need– opening the border to 10,000 refugees stranded in Hungary in September 2015, and registering more than a million new asylum seekers across the whole year – the country’s response has been an anomaly.

Last summer, Hungary’s government built a four metre high razor-wire fence along their Southern border and launched an anti-migrant billboard campaign. In February, in a move supported by several eastern European nations, Macedonia closed its border with Greece. The aim was to close off the route through the Balkans to central and Western Europe. In effect, this trapped tens of thousands of refugees in a country which, as a result of enforced austerity, is one of the least able in Europe to support them. A deal was struck in March between the EU and Turkey, to initiate a ‘one in one out’ policy, which amounted to Turkey being paid 6 billion euros over three years to accept refugees from Greece, in exchange for the number returned to be matched by the number accepted in to Europe.

This nonsensical policy shifts more of the responsibility onto a country which is already supporting 3 million refugees, and puts them at risk of further human rights abuses. Amnesty International has reported arbitrary detention and forced returns to Syria by the Turkish authorities, which violates International law. Closer to the UK’s shores, the refugee camp in Calais contained nearly ten thousand inhabitants, who were actively deterred and beaten by French border police as they regularly risked their lives to enter the UK. Earlier this year the French authorities demolished a large part of the camp – destroying the tentative homes people had started to create – in a deliberate attempt to prevent anything resembling security for the people living there. The UNHCR has called the current treatment of refugees in Europe “a largely self-induced humanitarian crisis.”

Our government could and should be doing more. Initially, David Cameron promised to resettle 20,000 refugees over five years from September 2015 (only after there was a public outcry over the death of Aylan Kurdi, and still a tiny number considering the scale of the crisis). One year later, the Home Office has reported giving refuge to around 2,800 people. After the Dubs Amendment to the Immigration Act was passed earlier this year, the government committed to accepting unaccompanied minors into the UK, with charities estimating up to 500 child refugees were eligible in the Calais camp alone. Up until this month, the UK had not accepted a single one.

destruction-of-camp

Since the destruction of the site began last week, initially around 100 children remained stranded there, and there are still concerns by volunteers working on the ground that some of these children may disappear, as happened when the authorities demolished half of the camp in February this year. The UK has so far accepted around 200 children, while 800 with links to Britain have been interviewed by the Home Office to be brought over in the next few weeks, though it has been reported that one in four local authorities have said they cannot take responsibility for them. Home Secretary Amber Rudd has also stressed that the UK will not accept applications for refuge from anybody arriving in the camp after Monday last week.

There are still nearly 1, 500 children living in shipping containers on the site of the camp, and neither French nor British officials are claiming responsibility for them. Volunteers have reported children leaving for Paris, where they will be living on the streets. Refugee charities there have already seen a sudden increase in the number of asylum seekers sleeping rough.

High-ranking Tory politicians have tried to make political gains from the crisis, scapegoating refugees and migrants for the pressure on jobs, housing and public services, when it is the government’s austerity policies, not a sudden influx of refugees, which is having a detrimental impact. As soon as child refugees started arriving, the mainstream media stirred up a storm over the idea that some of the young people coming from the camp may be older than 18. When there are human beings who have fled war and desperate conditions seeking help, we should be responding with more compassion.

Any Manchester Met students who would like to get involved in campaigns to protest against the government’s policy on this and fundraise for organisations supporting refugees, can join ‘Manchester Students Stand Up to Racism’, a group of students from both Manchester Met and University of Manchester which exists to show solidarity with refugees and fight racism, xenophobia and islamophobia. To find out more information, visit their Facebook page.


Bridget Taylor is in her writing up year of the Creative Writing MA and is currently concerned about all the poetry she isn’t writing.

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Bridget Taylor

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