Refugees are not the problem

Aug 25, 2020 | Articles

Share this page

We should have no time for criminals exploiting desperate refugees, but nor should we for a government that refuses to see the bigger picture and take the obvious steps to prevent this exploitation.

Bell Ribeiro-Addy Shadow Immigration Minister

At the height of the coronavirus crisis, it was refreshing to see some of the regular scare stories about migrants displaced by splashes about migrant key workers.

But as the economic crisis bites, the Government is casting around for someone else to blame for their own mismanagement of the pandemic – as if blame were just another thing to be outsourced.

Yet again, they’ve landed on migrants as a suitable scapegoat.

Inflammatory rhetoric around refugees travelling to the UK has become a horrifying constant in our political discourse.Related

This was clear again in Priti Patel’s response to the tragic drowning of Sudanese refugee Abdulfatah Hamdallah, which she glibly pinned on the problem of people smuggling.

Of course, we should have no time for criminals exploiting desperate people, but nor should we for a Government that refuses to see the bigger picture and take the obvious steps to prevent this exploitation in the first place.

The Home Secretary has been told time and again that without safe and legal migration routes, these crossings will only continue, and yet still she refuses to listen. It’s not people fleeing desperation who are the problem here; it’s politicians peddling misinformation and proffering easy scapegoats.

The decision to take this hostile line towards migrants isn’t solely discursive either.

Whether it’s sending Naval ships to chase dinghies, stripping back refugee children’s rights or effectively slamming the door in the face of migrant key workers, this government has shown us time and again that it’s always willing to go one step further to seem tough on immigration.

Their treatment of migrants is inseparable from their plan to drive private profits up in post-Brexit Britain, even if that means driving terms and conditions for workers down.

Contrary to the belief of some decrying those crossing over from France, these people did not appear out of thin air and refugees are not obligated to claim asylum in the first safe country they land in.

Under the Refugee Convention, we have an obligation to help those seeking safety. Rather than trying to push refugees and asylum seekers back onto continental Europe (whether by clumsy Brexit diplomacy or Naval war ship), the Government must accept its international obligations and accept our fair share of refugees.

We often hear that Britain is one of the most welcoming and least racist countries in the world. To quote Streatham’s own Santan Dave, “least racist is still racist”.

And you’d find it hard to argue Britain’s generosity to asylum seekers based on Home Office asylum data. We’re below the European average for asylum applications, with countries like Germany, France, Spain and Greece all seeing between two and four times as many as the UK.

We must also remember that the number of refugees settling in Europe is a widow’s mite compared to the 85% of all refugees living in developing countries. This week alone, the UN reported that 55 people drowned off the coast of North Africa.

The main thing separating us from those in dinghies is luck. As Tony Benn pointed out, “the way a government treats asylum seekers is very instructive because it shows you how they would treat the rest of us if they thought they could get away with it”.

We’re living through an age of mass displacement, driven by war, poverty and climate breakdown.

A comparatively large, wealthy European country like Britain should be leading the way, not trying to pass the buck to somebody else. During the Second World War, we rightly accepted thousands of German Jewish child refugees through the Kindertransport scheme. This proud national tradition of accepting refugees shames our current Government.

The UK has played a historic role in producing the current devastation driving people to our shores. As well as welcoming those who wash up here, now’s the time to address our own role in creating the conditions that drive people out of their homes in the first place.

This article first appeared in the House Magazine and on Politics Home: