For weeks, even months, now, headlines have blared about the atrocity that is the refugee crisis between Calais and Kent, telling of Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s scramble to house the mass influx of refugees that illegally cross the English Channel into the UK and of the “ambitious” Rwanda Plan to send asylum seekers across the planet. In reality, the UK is not doing nearly enough to address the influx. This is the truth about the migrant crisis — and what students are doing to help.
The Calais-Kent migrant crisis should not be understated. A record number of people attempted to cross the channel this August, with almost 1,300 people reaching the shorelines of Kent on one day alone. Although tensions have been high between London and Paris for years, ever since Brexit closed the doors of the UK borders, migrant centres in Kent are faced with overwhelmed facilities, resulting in worsening conditions for asylum seekers.
The conditions asylum seekers face while they await the decisions on their asylum claims are grim; many people are kept in hotels during the application process and given a small allowance but are not usually allowed to work while their case is being considered. The wait is not brief either: Home Office official Abi Tierney recently told MPs that 96% of asylum claims from 2021 are still being processed — never mind the 60,000 asylum claims made in the first half of 2022.
In reaction to the crisis in Kent, the anti-immigration camp poses two questions: “Why does everyone seem to want to come to the UK?” and “Why don’t they just enter legally?” Firstly, despite the chaos at the border, out of every 100 refugees crossing the Mediterranean into Italy (the first point of entry into the European continent), only five aim to enter the UK. Over half of these people have family ties in the UK, and most others likely speak or are learning to speak English. The UK houses far fewer refugees than other European countries, including Germany and Italy.
To address the latter question, not only has government policy shut down almost every safe and legal route for refugees to enter the UK, but most refugees are usually unable to even obtain legitimate documentation, such as a passport, from their defective, war-torn home countries. Or, if passports were once obtained, they are often lost in active war zones. Most refugees entering the UK come from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Eritrea, and Afghanistan, ranked some of the most dangerous countries in the world by the Global Peace Index. Currently, the UK has nine “safe and legal” routes open to asylum seekers. Five are country-specific, and the other four don’t pull nearly enough weight to offer refugees a real shot at being granted asylum.
SolidariTee, an international student-led charity fighting for long-term change in the refugee crisis, has a twofold mission. First, it seeks to raise awareness about the treatment of refugees in Europe; second, it collects funds for legal and psychological aid for refugees by selling T-shirts and hosting fundraising events.
In a discussion with the St Andrews chapter of SolidariTee, a committee member shared that, “Members of Solidaritee talk about the ‘refugee crisis’ in single quotation marks, because it implies that there are too many refugees in Europe, invoking images of crowded camps. Yet there are other reasons why these camps are well over capacity – there simply aren’t enough of them, and asylum claims are taking far too long to be processed. This has recently been the case in Kent, where many asylum seekers awaiting a decision on their refugee status have been residing in marquees for years.” Perhaps the problem, then, is not that there are “too many” people wanting to enter the UK, but that the British government is not nearly well equipped enough to accommodate them.
Instead of proposing to grow and fortify facilities for asylum seekers, Braverman has assured the public that her “dream” is to see the first flight leave for Rwanda. Braverman hopes that the proposed Rwanda Plan would deter people from crossing into the UK illegally. However, migrant numbers have risen since the policy was announced and, due to legal and moral push back from charities and campaign groups, the Rwanda Plan is on hold until a legal decision is reached.
Despite Braverman’s ambitious plans to erase the refugee crisis altogether, a new migrant labor force may provide an economic opportunity for the UK. A survey conducted by the Confederation of British Industry found that a lack of access to labor is threatening the competitiveness of the UK’s labor market.
Matthew Percival, the CBI’s director for skills, argues that, “It is crystal clear that labour market shortages are having a material impact on firms’ ability to operate at full capacity, let alone grow.” To reframe the perspective that there is “no space” for asylum seekers, it’s essential to account for the empty space in the economy that exists for asylum seekers to fill. A true “win-win” situation, this would not only provide work opportunities for asylum seekers but would also boost the economy and recover companies affected by labor shortages.
SolidariTee is one of many organizations and charities that are disseminating the perception that it’s time to stop the “send them back” discourse and treat refugees and asylum seekers with dignity. As a SolidariTee committee member emphasized, “it’s important to recognize that asylum seekers would not be leaving their home countries and uprooting their whole lives if they didn’t have to. They should not be talked about or thought of as opportunists. The vast majority of asylum seekers really need our help to find new homes. We should treat asylum in the same way that we would like to be treated under the same circumstances, and this can be done through supporting SolidariTee’s work.”
The truth of the matter is that, as long as people continue to be displaced by violent war and oppressive governments, the refugee crisis will not stop. Severely politicizing the issue, ignoring its root problems, nor sending refugees away on a plane will make the problem go away.
To help on campus, get involved with SolidariTee or with Refugee Action St Andrews (RASA).
To help off campus, get involved with charities such as Care4Calais by donating online or donating old winter coats at any drop-off point, linked here: https://care4calais.org/thedropoffmap/. Find more ways to help on the Care4Calais website or explore other charities and NGOs addressing the crisis.