They’re people, not just migrants

By Jon Crooks

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A crisis has escalated in recent months in which thousands of people, displaced from countries including Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia and Nigeria have attempted to get to Europe. They risk their lives, and in many cases, have lost their lives crossing the Mediterranean. But Cameron has largely turned a blind eye. Not his problem.

Well now it has become his problem. Migrants have set up camp near the port of Calais where around 3,000 people are currently living. Last night around 1500 people tried to enter the UK on mass via the channel tunnel and one man died.

Cameron blamed what he called:

…“the cancer of corruption at the heart of low economic growth in poorer countries”

The fact that he has to twist such an awful situation like this into being about this government’s favorite obsession with ”economic growth” is appalling, but at least he acknowledges that something needs to be done to address the cause of the problem rather than solely focusing on the symptoms.

Building bigger fences won’t do anything to stop people risking their lives to cross, it will just make it further for them to fall.

The government also likes to point the finger at the gangs of people smugglers, who are making a profit out of the ”human misery”. Fair enough. But let’s be clear – they aren’t creating the misery and the fact that people are turning to these gangs and paying them huge sums of money (their life savings) only goes to emphasize how desperate they are.

On a recent trip to Africa I passed through Turkey and read some interesting facts and arguments in an English language Turkish paper called Daily News. Apparently, according to the UNHCR, in 2015 two in every three migrants have been asylum seekers.

As asylum seekers, rather than economic migrants, Europe has a duty to protect them. The 1951 Geneva Convention protects…

“any person owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”

Europe also quite rightly protects (this principle is called “subsidiary” or “temporary” protection) those who would be at serious risk if they decide to return to their home country.

So here’s the problem: As long as those people fleeing their own countries have not received refugee or protected person status – or at the very least an asylum visa – they cannot present themselves at airport check-in counters. This despite the fact that a flight would be less expensive and much less risky. The common sense solution, proposed by French journalist François Dufour in the Daily News, was to grant them refugee or protected person status before entering Europe in the first place.

One option could be a UNHCR center in Tripoli, Algeria, Morocco, or elsewhere on the African coast, with the power to grant refugee / protected person status on behalf of European countries.

A further option could be a European Union embassy, with the same power, in a few safe countries (which have flights to at least one European country), such as Sudan, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya or Lebanon. Countries that are safer than the ones from which people are fleeing, but also easy to get to.

It wouldn’t matter where they were processed or which European country they then landed in as long as we had an EU-wide strategy that then required the placement of the total number of refugees fairly. In this respect, each country would get a share of refugees depending on the size and population of the country, and of course taking into consideration the foreign languages spoken by the refugees and whether they have any family already based in an EU country.

The obvious counter argument to this system is that it would act as a ‘pull’ to those wishing to seek a better life in a wealthier nation such as Britain. Maybe it would, but if the assessment process is rigorous, this would be largely negated. Also, another advantage of this “on the spot” solution is that it would reduce the large number of rejected asylum seekers who currently stay on illegally (around three out of four) and who currently live in poverty in the EU.

We must consider the fact that migrants are often refugees who have endured great suffering and are first and foremost people – like you an me – fellow human beings. They are people who, in desperation, have left their own countries to travel to Europe, often having been tortured or raped. Many, in doing so, have drowned. Isn’t it time we started treating migrants as the vulnerable people in need of help that they are and acting with some compassion towards them rather than simply blaming their government and erecting bigger walls?

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2 thoughts on “They’re people, not just migrants

  1. A compassionate and fair minded view Jon. If you were to think about a follow up article, you could write about the circumstances that have led to this situation, and the possibilities and costs of helping ameliorate the problems in these peoples home countries. Also look at the question if US led West geo policies on trade and security are contributing to the crisis in these peoples home countries, then we can’t wash our hands of the responsibility.

    Our internal debates should be about the most efficient and humane way to help put things right. Another question at what point did this all turn to a mess, I’m old enough to remember the end of the Cold War promising that this manipulation of the developing world for our own security and power agenda would end, these countries could develop and areas of the world could earn foreign income by being custodians of areas of outstanding natural value and biodiversity, where did that vision go?

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    1. Thanks for your comments Rashid. You’ve raised some excellent points there that touch on some of the potential causes and solutions. Getting to the route of these problems is the hard part, but you’re certainly right about the US and the old colonial powers manipulating poorer nations and using them for their own ends, often motivated by security led geopolitics and furthering or defending their own economic interests. Population growth too is a contributing factor and how long before climate change starts to have an impact too?

      Like

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