A deal in Calais, but the UK must do more
Europe’s refugee ‘crisis’ continues to dominate headlines.
This week, EU external border agency Frontex reported a record number of 107,500 people had arrived at Europe's borders irregularly – that is without permission and via unmanaged routes – in July. Germany revised its projection for asylum claims in 2015 and now anticipates receiving up to 800,000 claims. This morning, there are reports of police using tear gas and barbed wire to deter people from entering the EU through Macedonia. Meanwhile, Theresa May yesterday headed to Calais to announce a deal with her French counterpart.
That deal prioritises extra security measures around the tunnel and the port, including a ‘control and command centre’. British police will be deployed to work with French colleagues on tackling people smugglers, while there will be extra investment by both countries in fences, CCTV, sniffer dogs and other policing measures.
Some people might feel this additional emphasis and expenditure on immigration control is the right response to the news from Germany, Macedonia and Frontex. But they’d be wrong, and here’s why…
In the grip of a global refugee crisis
Last year, nearly 3 million more people became refugees. That’s the equivalent of everyone in Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow and Sheffield all fleeing their homes, jobs, everything they hold dear.
These are not people merely seeking economic opportunities abroad. They are running for their lives from barrel bombs and indiscriminate shelling in Syria, a brutal regime and indefinite military service in Eritrea and other experiences of conflict, violence and cruelty elsewhere.
They’re people like this family from Deir Ezzour in Syria, who arrived on Kos five days ago, after their hometown was bombarded by both Assad’s forces and ISIS.
— Amnesty UK (@AmnestyUK) August 19, 2015
— Daniel Etter (@DanielEtterFoto) August 17, 2015
And whilst the number of people attempting to find a safe and sustainable future in Europe has risen, they still represent only a small proportion of refugees in countries like Lebanon, Jordan and Ethiopia. There, new refugees are joining much larger refugee populations whom those countries have been hosting for many years, in some cases for decades.
Jordan for example is providing shelter to 650,000 Syrian refugees. Often not mentioned is the Palestinian refugees that country has been hosting since the late 1940s and 50s. There are currently more than 2 million of them in Jordan.
This is not a sustainable situation for these countries, or for the many refugees living there. Inevitably, some are forced to move on. This explains why so many more people are risking – and in many cases losing – their lives attempting dangerous journeys across land and sea – in the Mediterranean, at Calais and elsewhere in Europe.
Europe’s response so far has been inadequate
Building fences and making deals with other countries over border security has been the response of EU countries – including the UK – for many years. At its worst, this ‘fortress Europe’ approach led ministers across Europe not only to refuse to support the Italian search and rescue efforts last year, but to pressure the Italian government to stop search and rescue altogether.
As was entirely predictable, when that pressure succeeded, the numbers of men, women and children drowning in the Mediterranean rose greatly. At the end of April, after more than 1,000 people drowned in just five days, EU leaders relented and started a search and rescue effort backed by all EU countries. David Cameron declared saving lives was to be the priority.
But the focus has remained on preventing people getting to Europe, rather than acknowledging – at least at this time – many people will continue to come while the risks to them in their home countries remain so severe, and they cannot find safety and a sustainable future elsewhere.
That is why we and others continue to call on European countries to introduce safe and legal routes for refugees to find safety in Europe.
Calais and the role of the UK in Europe
Calais reflects the global refugee crisis – and its impact in Europe – but in microcosm only. The 3,000 or so men, women and children gathered at Calais, most in fairly squalid and insecure conditions represent only a tiny proportion of the refugees arriving in Europe.
Responding effectively to this global crisis requires cooperation within Europe and beyond its borders. As in all walks of life, leaving others to take an unfair share of responsibility doesn’t promote genuine and effective cooperation.
Solidarity is needed. While that needs to go much further than a deal between France and the UK, sharing responsibility for the humanitarian needs of all those at Calais and providing asylum to the many who are refugees would be a significant start.
— Agence France-Presse (@AFP) August 18, 2015
There is some recognition in the deal between the two countries of these humanitarian duties.
In the declaration, the French authorities have pledged to do more to ensure effective access to accommodation and their asylum system. And there is a clear implication that if the UK is formally responsible for an asylum claim – under what are known as the Dublin Regulations – it will accept the transfer of those asylum-seekers from France. This could apply to some people who have close family members already in the UK.
Nonetheless, the deal does not signal a wider recognition by the UK government of the need to show solidarity within and beyond the EU by accepting a much fairer share of responsibility for the world’s refugees. And the main focus remains on border policing.
Merely leaving that responsibility to other countries – whether France or Germany, or further afield Jordan and Ethiopia – won’t make this crisis go away. But it will make it much harder to secure international cooperation to both tackle the causes of forced displacement of people and attend to the immediate needs of those displaced.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.