CALAIS – A CRISIS OF COMPASSION

PRESS RELEASE – for immediate use 27 August 2015

The Close Campsfield Campaign is gravely concerned about the way the situation in Calais is being mis-represented to the British public.

The vast majority of the 5,000 or so men, women and children camped in slum conditions outside Calais have fled war, violence and persecution in their home countries. They are refugees and would be recognised as such if they managed to reach the UK.

1. Every person wishing to seek asylum in the UK has the right in law to do so, but must make the request from within in the country. This right is being denied by the government, which heftily fines any truck driver, ferry or airline company that transports migrants who wish to enter the UK to claim asylum. So our government is hypocritical when it says it will help the young from Syria and Eritrea, it has systematically prevented them from making their legitimate claims. (A European Union directive along the same lines explains why people are making the perilous crossing of the Mediterranean (see the YouTube video Why boat refugees don’t fly). No wonder these people are desperate.

2. They have been pushed by conflict, not by ‘pull factor’ dreams of streets paved with gold. We do not have generous benefits for people who ask for asylum but are not allowed to work, although they would want to. For the refugees in Calais, the priority is safety and asylum; their hope is to lead decent and independent lives. Some believe that the UK will offer freedom and democracy.

3. Most of the people in Calais wanting to get to the UK want to come for language reasons – they come from former British colonies or have good English, or have family, friends or fellow nationals here. Some have had bad experience in other EU countries.

4. The people wanting to cross at Calais are a tiny portion of the world’s refugees. Many are from regions where the UK has fought wars (Iraq, Afghanistan) and other war zones (Somalia, Eritrea). Many of those at Calais come from war-torn Syria, but they are a tiny part of the 9 million Syrians who have fled their homes, 6 million remaining within the country, 3 million going to neighbouring Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq (http://syrianrefugees.eu/). Only around 4,000 Syrian refugees have reached the UK in recent years, and we have only voluntarily offered resettlement to 187 Syrian refugees; Germany has welcomed some 30,000 (https://www.freemovement.org.uk/why-do-the-migrants-in-calais-want-to-come-to-the-uk/). In January to March this year, just 7,335 people made first time asylum claims in the UK, 4% of the EU total, just 114 claims per million people in the UK (17th out of 20 EU countries).

5. In this, the worst humanitarian refugee crisis since World War II, the UK’s response to date has been shameful and unacceptable.

6. If the government waived the restrictions on airline and ferry companies and let the people in Calais come to our actual border and present themselves for asylum, and if it provided a sufficient number of UKBA trained case workers and legal representatives to make certain the applicants had a fair hearing, we would reduce the number of people ’slipping’ into the country, as well treating people with respect and allowing them to exercise the right to claim asylum.

6. This would lead to what is described as a win:win situation. The lorry drivers would breathe freely again; our goods would get to the continent; the Channel Tunnel would run freely again (once the employers settled with the French ferry workers in dispute); and the desperate people wanting to reunite with their families could be assured of a sound hearing from the UK; we could move on from this shameful episode in our history and try to be a real voice for humanity in the world.

7. Our current almost total disregard and homicidal complicity with the suffering of refugees is similar, and no less culpable, to our attitude to slavery over a hundred years ago. Britain, as the fourth wealthiest country in the world, could lead the way now with its example of compassion and mercy. Only then could we be genuinely proud.

8. The journalist Robert Lustig suggests a humanitarian response to the world’s biggest movement of refugees for 70 years: EU-run processing centres at the main entry points: southern Italy, Greece, Hungary. Genuine refugees should be offered asylum according to an agreed quota calculated according to population and GDP. Those deemed non-eligible for asylum would be offered a choice: wait in a camp until your number comes up, and then go where you’re sent – or go home. The tragedy is that so many people are so desperate that they’re prepared to die in an attempt to find a safe place to live. And our response is so blinkered that all we can think of is building higher fences.

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