A Swarm? Calm down and get some perspective

“This is very testing, I accept that, because you have got a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean”

David Cameron’s comments last week sparked outrage with human rights activists lampooning his rhetoric, however this is indicative of British policy placing short term political appeasement above humanitarian responsibility. Indeed, the media backlash did have a tinge of hyperbole about it and took the Prime-minister’s comments out of context, however it is undeniable that as prime-minister he must choose his words more carefully. More worrying though is the stark difference between his recent statement and beliefs he espoused 2 years ago:

“I believe that immigration has brought significant benefits to Britain, from those who’ve come to our shores seeking a safe haven from persecution to those who’ve come to make a better life for themselves and their families, and in the process they have enriched our society by working hard, taking risks and creating jobs and wealth for the whole country.”

So what’s changed? Well British political opinion toward the EU for one thing.

The principle problem is that this unhelpful language is continuing to cloud and disfigure the realities of the issue for the British public. Many members of the British press implicitly or explicitly liken the migrants as immigrants as opposed to refugees. Of course Katie Hopkins has made her usual purposefully inflammatory comments to cover up for a total lack of journalistic originality or talent, however, Conservative MP David Davies also told Radio 4’s Today programme that British troops should go into migrant camps in Calais to move people “back to Africa or the Middle East”. He said they should be placed in ‘humanely-run’ camps and that benefits in the UK should be cut to make Britain a less attractive place for them. These opinions cloud the real humanitarian crisis with the concerns of Eurosceptics and populists’ exaggerated fears of immigration. In short, the real crisis is being trumped by political maneuverings.

Leaving rhetoric aside there is the more immediate problem that Britain is simply not pulling it’s weight in allaying the European wide crisis. Any notion of helping Italy which has been struggling to accommodate the 63,000 refugees that have arrived by sea, is caught up in the ongoing debate of Britain’s position in EU, which with the upcoming referendum, is coming to a head. If we take a look at the numbers, Britain’s ethical position is essentially indefensible. So far this year, more than 180,000 migrants have reached Greece and Italy by sea (others come from Turkey via the land border with Bulgaria). In Calais there are just shy of 3000. Of course people ask ‘Well what about the next 3000’ and yes more refugees will come but it is Britain’s duty to deal with the immediate problem and to stop quibbling on the sidelines of Europe whilst leaving countries such as Greece and Italy, whom are far less able to process and accommodate migrants, in the lurch. UN Special Representative for International Migration Peter Sutherland argued just this in his statement that the UK should take more migrants as part of a “fair” solution to the problem.

“And at the moment there is a huge disparity in the numbers that different countries are taking. On any basis, the Germans and the Swedes are taking far more per capita than the United Kingdom.”

Many asylum seekers head for Germany, which in 2014 had more than 200,000 applicants. After Germany comes Sweden with 81,000, then Italy, France and Hungary. In fact, Britain is way down the list, with only 32,000.

The most recent decision of the British Government to opt out of a voluntary scheme to resettle thousands of refugees arriving in Europe drew criticism from around the world and rightly so. The heated talks at the EU summit in Brussels saw European leaders endeavoring to formulate a solution to the Mediterranean migrant crisis. Whilst a proposal for mandatory quotas was rejected, EU countries agreed on a voluntary intake scheme. In order to relieve the pressure from southern European countries, members agreed to resettle 40,000 refugees now in Italy and Greece and another 20,000 people currently outside the EU. However, David Cameron’s government has opted out. Of course their recent triumph in the British Election grants it a concrete mandate to do so and a key election promise was to curb immigration from the EU before holding a referendum by 2017 on quitting the bloc. So the decision seems politically defensible and even admirable but again this is placing short term political appeasement over Britain’s humanitarian duty to both the EU and the world.

Furthermore, the range of comments from Liberal Democrat Leader Tim Farrow and the range of candidates for the Labour leadership may indicate a shift in British public opinion. More depressing was the range of headlines from tabloid papers calling for the Prime Minister to ‘send in the army’. Luckily, homes secretary Teresa May rejects calls for this ludicrous policy. Nevertheless, Britain must start pulling its weight, accept the voluntary intake scheme, engage in meaningful dialogue with the EU and most importantly place the humanitarian plight of refugees over short term political appeasement.