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DESPITE the humanitarian tragedy of at least 27 people drowning in the Channel while attempting a perilous journey to Britain, the British government still shamefully chooses to continue using the issue as a political football and appease the racist right. This was not just a tragedy, the loss of life was entirely avoidable.
Many misleading news reports in the mass media suggest that Britain is some sort of so-called “soft touch.” The reality is that it is very difficult to arrive in Britain legally. This is why people are forced to make life-threatening journeys across seas. Some perspective is necessary on the displacement of people worldwide.
Firstly regarding the causes of the displacement of people internationally, in other words what leads to people fleeing their homelands and become refugees. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) since 2008 the majority of displacement in the world is caused by disasters due to climate change, which is another illustration of the importance and urgency of the issue. Climate change is a big push factor.
Needless to say war, conflict and persecution are another push factor. Indeed the majority refugees attempting to cross the Channel to get to Britain are from war-torn countries that Britain has been involved in.
Analysis by the Refugee Council published over a week ago showed that almost all arrivals of asylum-seekers in the 18 months prior to June this year were from countries such as Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Eritrea and Afghanistan.
Many of these countries are not only affected by war but are countries that Britain has directly intervened in militarily and so bears some responsibility for the loss of life and the cause of displacement forcing people to leave their homelands, become refugees and seek asylum elsewhere. The Refugee Council report also found that the majority of people claiming asylum in Britain had their asylum applications granted.
The push factors of disasters due to climate change, wars and persecution by far outweigh any so-called “pull” factors to Britain.
Secondly regarding the numbers of people seeking asylum in Britain. We are led to believe that there are more refugees coming to Britain than other countries. This is not the case.
A tiny proportion of the world’s refugees arrive in Britain and those that arrive form only 0.6 per cent of the population. According to the UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) statistics at the end of 2020 there were 132,349 refugees and 77,245 pending asylum cases in the UK.
The IDMC figures illustrate that its the global south that accepts the vast majority of refugees. In 2019 India alone took five million, and China, Bangladesh and the Philippines took around four million refugees fleeing due to disasters caused by climate change. Meanwhile the US took in fewer than one million refugees.
There is a similar pattern with refugees fleeing war and persecution. A few months ago Britain allowed in fewer than 5,000 Afghan refugees and still deported people to Afghanistan when it should have declared an amnesty for all Afghan refugees in Britain. Pakistan meanwhile has 1.4 million refugees from Afghanistan and Iran over 750,000.
Similarly Turkey hosts over 3.7 million refugees from Syria, Lebanon has around one million, Germany over 800,000 — but by June 2019 only 17,051 Syrians had come to Britain. The global South takes in well over the majority of refugees fleeing war and climate change disasters.
So why the hype about deterring refugees from coming over when so few arrive here? It’s racism.
The Boris Johnson government is implementing some of the most racist policies of any government in the post-war period. It is also attacking the living standards of the many. The majority are becoming worse off while the rich get richer. Racist rhetoric against vulnerable people serves to provide a scapegoat, distract and divide people.
Johnson himself is struggling to maintain his leadership of the Conservative Party as his approval rating hits a record low. The war of words with France, instead of compassion and humanity in response to tragic and avoidable deaths, is pandering to racism in attempt to gain popularity.
The people who died while crossing the Channel were likely to have fled countries devastated by war and if allowed to enter Britain to claim asylum probably would have had their applications accepted.
Instead of blowing the dog whistle, whipping up racism and giving millions to the French government to stop refugees crossing the Channel, the government should have enacted safe passage to Britain, such as humanitarian visas.
This would allow people to travel safely, make an application for asylum and the millions given to France could instead go towards the NHS, education and keeping the £20 universal credit uplift, the loss of which has been so devastating for many families.
Today, hundreds will be gathering outside Downing Street to demand safe passage, say refugees must be welcomed here and stop the racist hostile environment. NEU general secretary Kevin Courtney, Lara Bishop from Care for Calais, rapper Lowkey and others will join the demonstration called by Stand Up To Racism.
Sabby Dhalu is co-convener of Stand Up To Racism.
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