3 Sep 2015

Refugee crisis: what should Britain do?

As Germany says it will take in 800,000 refugees this year and David Cameron faces criticism for his response to the crisis, what should Britain do?

Several senior EU officials have called on the UK government to do more to tackle the refugee crisis. In the past year, the UK has granted just under 10,000 people asylum.

The EU’s border agency Frontex said the number of migrants detected at EU borders in January to July stood at nearly 340,000. This was almost three times higher than the 123,500 recorded in the same period last year, and already higher than the 280,000 detected in the whole of 2014.

The true scale is likely to be higher as the figures do not include those passing into the continent undetected.

“This is the first time Europe and citizens are directly affected my movements from outside the region and Europe is struggling to cope,” says Professor Alexander Betts, director of the Refugee Study Centre at Oxford University.

‘Peace and stability’

On Wednesday, Prime Minister David Cameron said that the most important action the UK could take was to try to “bring peace and stability” to the Middle East.

“I don’t think there is an answer that can be achieved simply by taking more and more refugees.

“We are taking action right across the board – we’re helping the countries from which these people are coming, stabilising them and trying to make sure that there are worthwhile jobs and stronger economies there.

“We’re obviously taking action at Calais, in terms of the Channel – there’s more that we need to do, and we’re working together with our European partners as well. These are big challenges, but we’ll meet them.”

Professor Betts says the government has “badly misjudged the issue” and a “tipping point in public opinion”, sparked by a photo of a dead 3-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a beach in Turkey should prove the catalyst for action.

“At a global level, the government needs more creative policies to protect people in those regions where they are affected,” Professor Betts told Channel 4 News.

“On a regional level, the government needs to urgently develop a tenable position that enables Europe to come to an agreement of how to deal with this crisis.

“Yvette Cooper has suggested Britain should accept 10,000 refugees. I think more realistically Britain should take a proportional share based on population and size of income.”

Asylum applications

In the year to June 2015, the largest number of applications for asylum in the UK came from Eritrea (3,568) followed by Pakistan (2,302) and Syria (2,204). Of the 25,000 asylum applications received last year, the UK granted 9,230 people asylum.

Steve Simmons, of Amnesty International UK, told Channel 4 News that while he did not want to put a figure on it, the UK should be taking “thousands rather than hundreds” of refugees.

“Immediately we should be significantly expanding the Syrian refugee resettlement programme. We should also be talking to our European partners and saying, ‘Yes, we understand the crisis, and we are ready to accept our share of responsibility of those refugees and let them relocate to UK’.

“What our government has championed in terms of its work of providing aid to the regions where these people are coming from, Europe had to join us in doing much more of that.

“And we need to be redoubling our commitment to search and rescue efforts in the Mediterranean. We need to act on all of those fronts, rather than picking and choosing.”

Both Mr Simmons and Professor Betts say that members of the public who wish to help out should donate resources to organisations that work with refugees, and also look at community based support schemes in their area.

“Fundamentally, more people need to voice their concern that at the moment our government’s response to this crisis lacks basic humanity,” said Mr Simmons.