The UK must offer real help to refugees – and soon

Afghan teenager In Calais c.UNCHR H.Caux

Due to national self-interest trumping pan-EU solidarity, the borders of Europe have become the most dangerous in the entire world. Close to 3,000 people have lost their lives making the Mediterranean crossing this year – including young Aylan Kurdi, his brother Galip, and mother Rehan – and they are just the ones we know about.

So far, the UK contribution to solving the refugee crisis and offering sanctuary to people in urgent need has been calculating and feeble. For example:

  • Paltry resettlement: The UK resettled just 645 refugees through its resettlement programmes in 2014, down 33% from 2013.
  • Few asylum applications: Contrary to what’s often implied by some media and politicians, the UK doesn’t get that many asylum applications. The UK received just 494 asylum applications per million inhabitants in 2014, compared to 8417 in Sweden, 4332 in Hungary and 2509 in Germany.
  • Visa refusals: The UK Government has made it really hard for Syrians to get here safely – for example, it has dramatically reduced the number of visas granted to Syrian nationals since conflict broke out. In 2010 the UK approved 70% of visas for Syrian nationals – in 2014 this dropped to 40%.

David Cameron has now announced that the UK will take 20,000 Syrian refugees from camps in the Middle East over the next five years, despite the fact that there is a clear emergency right now. In contrast, Germany welcomed some 20,000 refugees this weekend alone.

Scottish Refugee Council believes that the UK needs to do much, much more - and can, easily.

Policy Officer Graham O’Neill says: “David Cameron is out of step with the public, and shames the UK’s history of humanitarianism.

“It should never have needed such a tragic image of an innocent child, whose family had been left no path to safety, to make the Government acknowledge the refugee crisis.

“Even after that searing image, all David Cameron could do was offer, in a calculating fashion that doubtless kept to his focus group script, a refugee resettlement cap that is wholly inadequate when set against the scale of the humanitarian crisis in Europe and beyond.”

These are eight things that we think should be done to ensure a safe future for refugees. Each of these is potentially life saving.

  1. Help people in Europe now. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is expected soon to confirm EU plans to relocate 160,000 people from Italy, Greece and Hungary who are in clear need of protection to other member states. The Scottish Government has said that the UK should take part in EU plans.
  2. Engage in long-term EU planning.  There is a pressing need for the UK Government to take more responsibility for an equitable approach to the refugee crisis long term, rather than responding piecemeal to a sudden upsurge in public interest.
  3. Consider humanitarian visas. The UK should explore other legal ways for refugees to reach the UK, including humanitarian visas, which would allow those fleeing war or persecution to travel safely and legally to a country that can offer them protection. France and Brazil have both implemented such schemes already in response to the Syrian crisis in particular.
  4. Make use of new regulations to help. The Dublin III regulations, which came into force in 2014, state that respect for the principle of ‘family unity’ should govern decisions about which EU country processes a person’s asylum application. If the UK fully implemented and used these regulations, much more could be done to welcome people already on Europe’s shores.
  5. Grant temporary protection. In these exceptional circumstances it makes sense to make use of all the tools at our disposal. The UK could encourage the EU to implement the Temporary Protection Directive, which would mean that immediate although temporary protection could be granted to people to allow time for EU countries to come up with a proper strategy to manage the numbers of people fleeing here.
  6. A gendered response is needed. There are many women and children on the move, and the issues that impact on women in their daily lives are magnified when they’re forced to flee, with huge danger of sexual violence and exploitation along the road. The UK’s response should take this into account.
  7. Keep looking for solutions. The UK Government has announced its decision to accept more Syrian refugees in response to a huge public outcry after pictures were published showing Aylan Kurdi, who died on the journey to Europe. But the news agenda will move on – it’s critical that politicians and the public stay engaged on this issue and keep pressuring the UK Government and its international counterparts to do the right thing for all refugees.
  8. Treat all refugees fairly. Syria is very much in the news. The scale of what is happening there is devastating and has meant a huge number of people having to flee their homes. But people also have to flee countries such as Iraq, Eritrea, Afghanistan, China, Somalia, Pakistan, Sudan and many others. All refugees have the right and deserve to have their case for seeking sanctuary fairly heard.

What can you do?

Tell your MP to support EU resettlement and relocation plans when they’re announced this week, and send them the link to this article, which outlines a number of solutions to help alleviate the refugee crisis and create safe futures for so many who have already been through so much.