Lesbos, home to Europe’s largest refugee camp, was swamped by a fire on Tuesday, September 8th leaving 13,000 refugees without shelter. Among them were approximately 4,000 children. The Greek government has requested help from EU and non-EU nations to resettle those who have lost the little they had in the fire. Several governments have stepped up. France and Germany have agreed to take in many of the children. 13 other countries―including several non-EU states―have also agreed to take in some of the refugees.
The UK has kept silent. The government suspended its global resettlement scheme following the COVID-19 outbreak and has kept it suspended since. Refugees International advocate Daphne Panayotatos said: “By keeping resettlement operations on hold, the UK has further abdicated its responsibility to people seeking safety in Europe. With tens of thousands in Lesbos now left with nowhere to go, the UK should immediately step up to take in more vulnerable asylum seekers, resume resettlement, and facilitate family reunification.” The government currently shows no intention of joining the international effort to resettle the refugee’s and alleviate the immense economic and political pressure the overcrowded camps have been putting on the Greek government and those unfortunate enough to be stuck in limbo within them.
Pressure has now begun to mount on the British government. 70 civil society groups have called for the British government to do its fair share and join the other countries in taking re-housing the refugees. Ruth Tanner, the head of Oxfam’s humanitarian campaigns, stated that “The ongoing humanitarian tragedy in the camp and now this devastating fire is an urgent reminder to the UK government that it should be doing its fair share for people fleeing conflict and persecution.”
International pressure is also building. Stephanie Pope, UN policy and advocacy manager at Refugee Rights Europe, commented: “Thousands of individuals, including roughly 4,000 children, have been left homeless and traumatised. We urge all European governments including the UK, to uphold their commitment to human rights and show solidarity with these individuals, by relocating a number of them to safety without delay.”
Piri Patel is yet to respond to this pressure. However, her complete lack of empathy and failure to grasp what drives people to become refugees suggests her response will once again be an attempt to dehumanize and blame the refugees themselves. In August her response to the refugee’s attempting to cross the Chanel from France to Britain was to try and make the crossing “totally unviable” describing the increasing number of refugee’s crossings the channel as “appalling.” A similar response, if any, can be expected from Patel and the Home Office unless national and international pressure continues to mount.
There is no excuse for Britain’s negligence. Less well-resourced countries that have had little to nothing to do with the wars that have driven many of the refugees from their homes have agreed to join the relief effort. The international community, NGOs and the general population must pressure the Home Office to change its position on the crisis in Lesbos and its attitude to asylum seekers overall.
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