Over the last four days, 677 refugees have arrived on the Kent coast having made the dangerous journey across the channel from Northern France. This has caused such hysteria among politicians and sections of the media.
The hysteria overlooks the fact that we in the UK have a particular moral responsibility to protect these refugees who are crossing (and attempting to cross) the channel.
The UK has contributed to making the situation dangerous and intolerable for refugees in Northern France. We have invested millions in funding the CRS riot police in Calais and the surrounding region. The CRS use tactics of intimidation, harassment and violence against refugees. The CRS also roam the area and reportedly use beatings, pepper spray and tear gas in unprovoked attacks, often whilst refugees are sleeping in their makeshift shelters. The CRS have confiscate and destroy personal property such as phones, documentation and medication. These tactics create a hostile environment for refugees in the region, where their human rights are continually violated without protection.
In addition, the UK has not provided any safe and legal routes for refugees to escape these conditions and access asylum in the UK. Instead, we have invested millions of pounds in fences capped with barbed wire in the Calais region as well as building the 14-foot high concrete ‘Great Wall of Calais’ surrounding the port.
The UK has therefore contributed to making the situation in Northern France intolerable and unsafe for refugees, which compels journeys to seek adequate safety; and the UK, in securitising the border and denying safe and legal routes, has left refugees with no reasonable alternatives but to risk their lives on perilous journeys across the channel. The UK therefore has a particular moral responsibility to protect these refugees.
Furthermore, the simple truth is that these refugees are in urgent need of protection and are asking for our help. And, despite the hysteria, the numbers of refugees attempting to find safety in the UK represents a tiny minority. Around 4000 have attempted the journey this year. These numbers can be accommodated. And it is unreasonable to suggest that this figure is too large for the UK to accept when we expect less affluent and secure states in the Global South to host far greater numbers. Lebanon, for example, a country approximately the size of Wales, with a GDP fifty times smaller than the UK, hosts nearly one million refugees.
The UK is the sixth largest economy in the world, and has the capacity and resources to be able to offer hope, security and opportunities for refugees to rebuild their lives at little cost. It is difficult, if not impossible, to morally justify turning innocent refugees away to suffer harm and human rights violations when we could easily help them.
Therefore, an ethical response to the channel crossings would require the following. It would require the UK to stop creating a hostile and dangerous environment for refugees in Northern France. The UK should instead provide safe and legal routes for refugees to access asylum in the UK. Such safe and legal routes could be established by sending home office officials and immigration lawyers to carry out prima facie asylum eligibility assessments in the regions in northern France and then facilitating safe passage to the UK (as was done in October 2016 during the demolition of the Calais camp). These safe and legal routes would remove the incentive for dangerous and exploitative trafficking operations and prevent the life-threatening channel crossings. This ethical response is urgently required and it is our moral responsibility to provide it.
The above is adapted from a larger article published here in the Independent.
Note that there is a good article by Clementine Leaver on Liberal Democrat Voice here.