|FOR WORLD SOCIALISM|
The Church of England bishop of Dover, the Right Rev. Trevor Willmott, accused senior political figures, including the prime minister, of forgetting their humanity and attacked elements of the media for propagating a “toxicity” designed to spread antipathy towards migrants.
“We need to rediscover what it is to be a human, and that every human being matters.”
Save the Children, Justin Forsyth, chief executive of the international charity, echoed Willmott’s call to remember the fact that the migrants were humans and many were refugees fleeing horrific abuse or extreme danger. “We are in danger of shutting our hearts to the desperation of the people pleading at the door, refugees not economic migrants,” he said.
The deputy mayor of Calais, Philippe Mignonet, branded the prime minister “racist”
The UN special representative on migration, Peter Sutherland, said Britain’s attitude towards the crisis suggested the lessons of Nazism had not been learnt.
“Many of those in Calais are refugees, just as the Jewish people were in 1939,” he said. “They can prove they were – and are – persecuted and would be persecuted if they were returned.”
The conflict in Syria has displaced 6.5 million people internally and caused another three million to flee the country entirely. While the majority of these refugees end up in border countries like Turkey and Jordan, an increasing number of Syrians are fleeing to Europe. The main route to reach Europe is by crossing the Mediterranean from Libya on a crowded boat.
“I don’t want to die. I don’t want to kill anyone,” a Sudanese man told me. He had fled soldiers trying to force men into militias all around him. He was happy to stay in the camp indefinitely. “No guns. No killing here,” he explained.
Alex, a 22-year-old Ethiopian hoping to reach Britain spent six months as a political prisoner and fled as soon as he was released from jail. He has already been in Calais for nearly two months, trying to cross almost every evening: “If I spoke more French I would stay here, but I will be like a baby, have to start again from nothing.”
“The French language is very difficult, but we try hard. If we come every day, maybe we can touch our dreams,” says Kamal, a refugee from Sudan’s war-torn Darfur district who comes to three or four hours of classes every day. “It’s a good thing to keep your brain active.” The 29-year-old electrical engineer is one of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of refugees living in the “jungle” camp outside Calais who have applied for asylum in France and are eager to learn the language of what they hope will be their new home. France is already home to more than a quarter of a million refugees, according to United Nations data – the country has taken in more than twice as many as the UK, even though the countries have similar populations.
Jenny Flahaut, 33, who works at a children’s home, was inspired to volunteer. She is particularly frustrated by the depiction of migrants in the media and by politicians who have never visited the camp, most recently David Cameron, who in a much criticised speech talked about “swarms” of people trying to reach the UK. “They don’t know them and have a bad vision, but they are not like that,” Flahaut said. “Most of them are very good people. They are welcoming and friendly. They want to improve their life and make it better, and learning is part of that.”
Zimarco Jones, the school’s Nigerian founder, who arrived in Calais two years ago and is still waiting for his asylum claim to be processed hates the camp’s name “The Jungle”, because he says it implies the residents aren’t people. “We are not animals.”
Why do all the people coming across the Mediterranean want to come to Britain? Most of them don’t. This is a rather small part of the issue. So far this year, more than 180,000 migrants have reached Greece and Italy by sea (others come from Turkey via the land border with Bulgaria). Of those, only a few thousand make their way overland across Europe to Calais. In the first four months of this year, more than a quarter of a million people claimed asylum in a European Union member state; fewer than 10,000 of those claims were in the UK.
But isn’t the UK, as the mayor of Calais put it, “El Dorado” for immigrants, with our generous benefits and booming economy? For those who speak English, the UK will obviously be more attractive than, say, Sweden, although the latter is considerably more welcoming to refugees. And some will have family and friends connections. It is unlikely to be the munificence of the UK’s benefit system, which is not particularly generous compared with many continental countries, and isn’t open to asylum seekers anyway.
Aren’t refugees supposed to seek asylum in the first European country they arrive in? So why can’t we send them back to Italy or Greece? This is indeed what the Dublin Regulation says. But this is a lot harder in practice than in principle.
Greece, for example, is experiencing one of the worst depressions in recorded economic history. It’s hardly surprising that Athens hasn’t got the resources to process asylum claims and is happy to let migrants pass through on the way to northern Europe, without registration or fingerprinting, making it difficult or impossible for them to be returned.
Italy, not unreasonably, feels it, too, has been left to deal with most of the burden on its own. And remember that these countries would, in theory, be within their rights to issue genuine refugees with permanent residence permits, allowing them free movement within the entire EU.
Wherever they come from, don’t we have a huge problem with illegal immigrants? The last serious – although extremely rough – estimate of the number of people living in the UK illegally was made in 2009, which gave a range of between 420,000 and 860,000. These are the numbers most commonly quoted, although Migration Watch and the Daily Express routinely round the number up to a million. The lower estimates imply that there are several hundred thousand people living illegally in London and that figure may well be too high. A few years ago the Metropolitan police started checking the immigration status of everyone arrested in London. They seemed to find immigration irregularities only for a relatively small proportion, perhaps 1%. So unless we believe that irregular migrants are remarkably law-abiding compared with both natives and legal immigrants, it may be that levels of irregular migration are much lower than previously thought. Most people here irregularly didn’t come through the Channel tunnel. Most estimates suggest that at least 80% are people who arrived in Britain legally and then overstayed. The “typical” illegal immigrant is someone who came here on a tourist visa and decided to stay and make some money working in a restaurant; or a person who arrived on a working visa and changed occupations. He or she is not an Eritrean who hid in the back of a lorry – who in any case is quite likely to have a valid claim for refugee status.
Why are so many people coming to Europe anyway? And are they genuine refugees or economic migrants? The most common nationality by far of those currently arriving in Greece and Italy is Syrian. Other common nationalities are Eritrean, Afghan, Somali, and Iraqi. In most cases they are fleeing civil war, violence and oppression. Those who do make it to the UK are highly likely to be granted refugee status or humanitarian protection. Legally and morally, they are not illegal immigrants, still less “bogus asylum seekers”.
Surely the answer, as the government says, is to intervene at the source of the problem, with development aid, so that people don’t want to migrate? That sounds like a win-win: if Britain uses its aid budget to help the countries of origin grow, people will be more prosperous and will not risk their lives trying to migrate to Europe. Sadly, the evidence that development aid can in practice reduce migration flows is thin to non-existent. In fact, the list of countries of origin above illustrates the difficulties. In Syria, Britain decided not to intervene (although it is now reconsidering). In Afghanistan and Iraq, the UK intervened militarily at great cost and with less than universally successful results. In Eritrea, the EU continues to provide development aid to a hugely repressive regime, with no obvious influence on either its behaviour or migration flows. That’s not to say that it’s not worth trying to use aid to create jobs and opportunities in the countries of origin; but it won’t change things any time soon. EU tariff walls and unfair trade rules continue to retard the growth of stronger economies in Africa. That entrenches the poverty
Doesn’t the EU need migrants anyway? One of the ironies about Europe’s state of panic about migration across the Mediterranean is that for a number of years policymakers have been warning that Europe’s population is ageing and, in many countries, shrinking. The EU’s total fertility rate is just over 1.5 – you don’t need to be a demographer to work out the long-term implications. If it weren’t for migration, the EU’s working-age population would already be shrinking. Last year, deaths exceeded births in both Greece and Italy – where the vast majority of the migrants arrived – and in Germany, where the largest number end up. Like that of the UK, Germany’s economy is creating jobs faster than the natives can fill them. We’ve been here before – in the 1960s, labour shortages in Europe were filled by North Africans in France, Turks in Germany and, of course, Commonwealth migrants to the UK. Those routes were mostly closed off after the 1970s.
And it’s not just about the number of people or workers – migrants can bring new ideas and new dynamism to an economy, something many European countries sorely need. Our NHS is held together by immigrants, with 30 per cent of our doctors coming from abroad.
Public hatred is focused on the most visible and vulnerable migrants. The Tories came to power promising to reduce net migration into Britain to below 100,000 a year. “No ifs, no buts,” said Cameron. But he could not stop EU citizens moving to the UK and business was and remains desperate for workers from the rest of the world too. With his attempts to control economic migration in ruins, the only possible way Cameron can sustain his pose of the hard man is by refusing sanctuary to Syrians and Eritreans. They have proved an easy target.
“Human beings move. We are a restless species. If you have never moved to a new country to find work, your forebears certainly did. Go back far enough in your family, my family or any family on this planet and you will find that our common ancestors were migrants. In hating them, we hate ourselves.” Writes NickCohen in the Guardian.
The solution to the immigration crisis lies not with building fences and bulldozing camps but with the creation of conditions that does not necessitate people leaving their homes, their family and their friends and neighbours. The reality is that the solution is socialism.