Unless you’ve been living in a cave somewhere off the Christmas Islands you may have noticed the recent horrors going on with asylum seekers fleeing war from Syria and moving into Europe, often through Greece, Italy and Austria in search of refuge. This means desperate people who have had their human rights taken away from them, are facing life or death situations and are incredibly vulnerable are paying illegal traffickers to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Subsequently resulting in around 2,800 deaths so far; and that’s just the ones we know about. In this blog I hope to present some of the interesting information I have come across over the last week on this hot potato topic, that no one wants to ultimately own.
I’ll begin by posing the question, why might we even care about this? After all, comparatively it’s not on our doorstep. Well, besides the deaths and persecution of fellow human beings this will effect us whether we like it or not and passing on responsibility to other nation states is simply unacceptable. It is our obligation to help. One thing I’ve learnt from my research over the last week, which ranges from reading The Guardian, listening to views on Radio 4, talking to an investigative journalist, attending a debate and hearing what the Dali Lama’s thoughts are on immigration is that this topic is incredibly complicated, multi layered and full or controversy. Not an easy one to unpick!
Aside from the question of why we should even care about this, which was touched on above there are three more key questions that need to be considered as the foundations of the asylum debate. Firstly, what criteria needs to be met for refugee status to be awarded? As opposed to economic migrant status, which has different consequences for the individual; refugees are not allowed to work for example, but they do receive housing and an allowance of £5 per day. Generous right. If asylum is granted then refugees could be in the UK for years, until their country is peaceful and they can return home and start rebuilding their lives. However, look what happened to the Palestinians in Israel… There is a view, often presented by papers like the Daily Mail, that depicts scrounging foreigners as being desperate to get their feet onto English soil, but ask yourself this question. If you were unsettled and displaced by war and had to flee as a last resort, where is the one place you would be longing to be; home?
Secondly it is important to think about what level of treatment might we afford to these two groups. As a UK citizen we have a right to health care, education and other means tested benefits such as housing. If we do differentiate between economic migrant and refugee status then ought we not to offer different rights to each group, and if so what would they be? Differentiating between economic migrants and refugees is not as easy as it sounds. Migrants is a blanket term for migration in general and that’s something that people from all over the world do every single day, usually using conventional visas in search of a better quality of life or more economic prospects. It gets slightly more difficult to ascertain when hundreds of thousands of migrants turn up at borders hoping for asylum status. Some of the problems include validating stories, documentation and finding space to house people in need. This takes substantial time and an organised effort, which is something that has been lacking. A long winded and slow process by no stretch of the imagination has culminated in the horrible stories of people having to wait days in places like Croatia where it reaches 36 degrees in the mid day sun, where charities are handing out pieces of cardboard to protect them, just so they can be spoken to by officials.
Thirdly, there is the question of whose job it is to decide where all these people hanging in a state of uncertainty and limbo go? It is certainly unacceptable to have people being put up in football stadiums, but this just shows the level of crisis we are facing. It brings to mind scenes of hurricane Katrina and the immediate aftermath of so many people displaced with nowhere to go. There needs to be some sort of organised effort enacted sooner rather than later to ease the tension and worries of the many refugees. The decision making bodies that are most likely to be successful in putting together a coordinated effort at placing refugees is the E.U and the UN, but this needs to be with full backing of the nation states taking into consideration both there wealth and population. Help is currently being provided, for instance in Germany, through sheer political will and that isn’t acceptable, fair or sustainable in the long run.
The European Union is an institution that has brought neighbouring countries together under the one roof. When it formed in 1993 it was a progressive step towards a world that cooperates and collaborates on major issues. And that encourages the greater good rather than selfless actions by nation states. In the case of the immigration crisis, it is not so much a legal obligation, as it is with those that manage to reach our shores here in the UK, but one of a moral obligation to those that are thousands of miles away but that need our help. Returning peace to to the countries that desperately need it, Syria, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan for example, should be the long term goal. But in the more immediate and medium term there is so much work for our politicians and our non government organisations to do. Even us as individuals can do our bit. I decided to write this blog in the hope of sharing out some goodwill towards immigrants seeking refuge. These borders that we have created are imaginary lines on a map. Despite, race, ethnicity or the colour of our skin, what is in our hearts and our minds is all the same and compassion and love for others is what counts in the end. What can you do? The simplest action can make a difference.
Takver: Inside the fence
Rasande Tyskar: Refugee welcome centre