Refugee crisis: How the UK can, and must, do more

Posted by Rachel Robinson on 28 February 2016

The past week has seen a frenzied focus on our continued membership of the EU, with countless column inches and political interventions devoted to competing arguments on security, the economy and national sovereignty. Aside from weighty matters of the national interest, a side-show of party infighting, mud-slinging and personal revelations has provided drama and intrigue of (soap-)operatic proportions.

Humanitarian crisis

But – eclipsed by the sound and fury of the advent of a referendum campaign – a humanitarian crisis on our country’s doorstep continues, shaming our political leaders and demanding our attention. Arguments rage across the EU as borders are closed, security increased and responsibility for the hundreds of thousands fleeing conflict and persecution left largely to geographical accident. Hundreds of thousands risk their lives on treacherous journeys to Europe’s shores and, of those that survive, thousands languish in squalid refugee camps on the UK’s border. 

On Thursday judges gave the go ahead for the demolition of the southern part of the Calais refugee camp. Tents and temporary shelters will be destroyed. Community structures like schools and a legal centre will only be left standing thanks to the intervention of groups like Help Refugees. Reports indicate no proper provision has been made for the more than 300 unaccompanied children currently living in the camp, some of whom have likely already departed to face the yet greater privations of Dunkirk.

The refugee crisis requires global attention and international co-operation – but the moral abdication of our Government extends beyond the collective failures of developed nations to our own domestic rules and processes.

Betraying a proud tradition

It took a decision of a UK tribunal to ensure that four vulnerable young people living in the Calais camp – including three children – could have their asylum claims determined in this country, joining family members waiting to care for them here. The Government is appealing the decision and showing every sign of fighting the provision of safe and legal routes to this country at every turn.

Meanwhile, the decision to take in only 20,000 vulnerable Syrian refugees over five years miserably fails to meet the scale of the need, and the refusal to take a humane approach to family unity is causing avoidable death, separation and distress.

Collectively this approach by our Government unpicks Britain’s proud tradition of providing sanctuary and fails to reflect the inspiring and humbling response of the hundreds of thousands of people across our country who have volunteered, donated or offered their homes at this time of crisis.

Immigration Bill

As is so often the case when our elected leaders lack collective courage, the House of Lords will step up. Over coming weeks, Peers will debate amendments to the Immigration Bill, already tabled, addressing the plight of unaccompanied asylum seeking children across the continent and the desperate need to protect the family unity of those forced to flee their homes.

Lord Alf Dubs, a Labour Peer who fled the Nazis and came to this country as an unaccompanied child refugee, will lead the charge in calling for the UK to immediately accept 3,000 unaccompanied children from France and other countries in Europe. If passed, this amendment will offer a glimmer of hope to children left bereft in some of the richest countries in the world.

Meanwhile, cross-bench Peer Lord Hylton will speak to an amendment which would help protect the family unity of those recognised as refugees in the UK. Vitally, it would also provide safe and legal routes to the UK for those with international protection needs who have family members in this country.

Respect for family life is an integral part of the international protection regime and a fundamental human right. If passed, Lord Hylton’s amendment would reduce the stranglehold of people smugglers, provide safe passage to the UK, prevent countless deaths at sea and allow families to be reunited.

Liberty will support both of these amendments during Report stage consideration of the Bill and continue to call on our Government to respond to this crisis with an approach based on international responsibility and respect for human rights. 

Rachel Robinson

Rachel Robinson

Policy and Advocacy Manager