The idea that securing the borders and making life for asylum seekers harder represents an adequate response to the refugee crisis is not only inhumane, but deeply naïve
As hundreds of thousands of migrants are risking the perilous – and often deadly – journey across the Mediterranean and the Balkans to reach Western Europe, the response of the British government has been dismal.
The possibility that the 4,000 migrants camped in Calais might cross the Channel and join the 65 million people already living here has plunged Westminster into a state of panic. So the Home Office acted: securing the border in France with additional fences, sniffer dogs and security guards; restricting benefits for asylum seekers, in the hope that this would deter potential migrants abroad; and starting to wonder how the free movement of people across EU borders could be made a bit less free.
Few European leaders have distinguished themselves in the migration debate, but the case of the Cameron government is particularly pitiful, especially considering the fact that the UK receives a very small number of refugees, compared to other countries. In the first six months of this year, there were 194 asylum applications per 100,000 people in the UK – fewer than most European countries. Tiny Sweden, with a population of less than 10 million, received 75,000 asylum claims last year; the UK had less than half that number.
Land of milk and honey
As a rule, the British government never tires of championing our economy, trying to convince us that finally, growth and employment are picking up again, that the economy is ‘motoring ahead’, as Chancellor George Osborne said a few weeks ago. Except, of course, when the question turns to migration and the need to settle refugees here: suddenly, the UK is not a ‘land of milk and honey’ any more – fences need to go up, migrants need to be sent home.
The government has been forced to shift by popular pressure, on one side. The response from thousands of ordinary people in Britain has been overwhelming, with collection centres flooded with donations and volunteers.
On the other side, cynical realpolitik amongst EU leaders has meant Germany using the issue of refugees to assert its damaged authority inside the Union.
The idea that securing the borders and making life for asylum seekers harder represents an adequate response to the refugee crisis is not only inhumane, but deeply naïve. As long as the Middle East is being ripped apart by war and violence, and as long as there is rampant inequality in the world economy, people will migrate: to countries and societies where they are safe and can build a decent life. Fences will make no difference to this.
Peter Stäuber is a freelance journalist and translator. He writes for English and German language publications and is a member of the NUJ.
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