Europe’s refugee crisis has come to the forefront of the British consciousness again this month. Attempts to cross the channel have been dubbed by political and media figures as a “national humiliation”. With a recent YouGov poll suggesting that almost half of Britons (49%) say they have little to no sympathy for the migrants, refugees continue to be dehumanised from all angles.
In multiple tweets, Farage described the videos as “exclusive footage”, sensationalising the small groups of asylum seekers trying to come ashore. Moreover, he dubbed a dingy carrying no more than a family a “shocking invasion of Kent”, demonising people who had given up everything to begin a new life in a free and stable country. It is evident that the vast majority of these people pose no threat to our society and have nowhere else to turn. Equating them to an army is dehumanising and frankly disgusting, a term he would surely never apply to Britons if they were in the same position.
The Home Secretary Priti Patel was just as coruscating in her response, calling the crossings “appalling” in a Twitter thread. The daughter of Ugandan Asian refugees, Patel has confessed that the current immigration laws may have prevented her parents’ entry, but has shown no compassion to those in their position now. She went on to call for the “cooperation of the French” which many ridiculed as EU countries are bound by law to cooperate with each other on this issue. With Brexit complete, Patel can no longer blame EU countries as now we have control of our borders again.
Furthermore, Patel wants to remove the duty that the UK has to aid refugees. To achieve this, she aims to make the route unviable and to remove Britain’s moral and legal responsibility to safeguard them. A possible ramification of this will be an increase in even more dangerous methods of entering the UK. Cutting off the channel won’t nullify the desperation of refugees, it will simply intensify it, and make the system practically inhumane. She argued that “when the British people say they want to take back control of our borders – this is exactly what they mean.” If what we want is for innocent people to be alienated and to suffer indefinitely, that is what we will get.
News reporters also came under fire for the way they addressed refugees in person and contributed to sensationalist media coverage. Approaching a rubber dinghy, on a large, pristine ship, one Sky News reporter waved frantically, vying for the attention from the passengers. Journalist Owen Jones condemned their actions, describing the refugees pictured “the most desperate people on earth turned into light entertainment”. The treatment of these people is a clear sign that their lives are viewed as not as valuable as ours and thus they are treated in humiliating and inhumane ways.
Many are simply not aware of the legal distinctions and rights of those fleeing their countries. This allows provocative figures such as Farage to condemn them publicly as ‘illegal migrants’, despite being unaware of their individual situations. Outlined by the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, people who would otherwise be persecuted for their identity have a right to seek protection in another state.
Furthermore, they cannot be penalised for entering a country illegally in order to seek asylum, even if they have ‘stopped off’ at other safe countries. As their rights are enshrined in law, the UK are obliged to consider their asylum applications and protect them in the meanwhile, if they are in fact at risk of being persecuted in their home country. The claim that all those crossing the channel illegally are ‘illegal migrants’ is unfounded, dehumanising, and simply untrue.
Furthermore, Farage and others are guilty of conflating the terms of refugees and economic migrants, which exacerbates current confusion about immigration. As discussed, the former is allowed entry into a safe country as they have fled persecution. The latter however, is defined by a different purpose; to find employment by immigrating to a different country.
In 2018, the UK received applications for asylum for 37,453 people. This is far less than Germany (162,000), France (110,000). Whilst it is true that the UK resettles the most refugees in Europe, that doesn’t reflect their overall intake. In fact, resettlement entails many issues immigration-sceptic people are concerned about, such as integration in the community. Conversely, the amount of economic migrants is significantly higher at around 200,000. While some economic migrants enter the UK illegally, refugees are often mistaken for them. Politicians should not jump to the assumption of their immigration status, and should treat all fairly and humanely.
Despite what media coverage implies, the UK is below the European average for asylum applications, ranking 17th overall. The majority of refugees don’t even stray from their native continent, with 73% hosted in neighbouring countries. In addition, 85% of refugees are hosted in developing countries who do not have the same quality or quantity of resources to cope with their needs as the UK.
If anything, the UK should be stepping up and increasing aid to refugees. Many argue that the channel crossings, a form of people smuggling is criminal and damaging. However, they offer no alternative aside from ‘sending them back’. There needs to be thorough discussion and reform about our current system of hosting refugees and asylum seekers.
In 2016, the refugee crisis was appropriated by eurosceptics as a selling point for leave, demonstrating how to these figures, those fleeing from persecution are viewed as nothing less than political bargaining chips. Infamously, Farage promoted his ‘breaking point’ poster, depicting a line of refugees with the slogan ‘the EU has failed us all’. In a poll shortly before the EU referendum, a third of people named immigration as their prime concern and factor influencing their vote.
The future for asylum seekers coming to Britain seems uncertain. With the Home Office increasing restrictions further, including creating the new role of ‘Clandestine Channel Threat Commander’, it is evident that refugees will continue to be perceived as a danger rather than what they are – human beings.
Featured Image Credit: Wikipedia