A policy of building walls and fanning the flames of prejudice will not solve the refugee crisis
It makes me slightly queasy to write this, but Donald Trump could have just been elected president of the US. Fortunately, the release of the tape from 2005, on which he was recorded making lewd comments about women, might have put paid to his chances. Perhaps what is most surprising is that he made it to election day espousing views that might previously have ruled him out as a candidate for a mainstream political party. To sustain his campaign, though, Trump has successfully exploited some ugly prejudices that also resonate on this side of the Atlantic.
One of the Republican party candidate’s most notorious pronouncements was his proposal to build a wall between Mexico and the US to keep out illegal immigrants. He estimated that it would cost between $8bn and $12bn, and he wanted Mexico to pay for it. Whether or not it is a policy he will pursue if, God help us, he has been elected, is not really the issue. Like so much in politics, it is the symbolism of the idea that really matters, as it taps into his supporters’ fears around immigration.
Until recently, the government’s response to the migrant crisis in Calais has been Trumpish in its inhumanity. Thanks to the campaigns of refugee charities and the Dubs amendment, though, it has had to rethink its stance.
As Great Britain is an island, our politicians do not talk about the need to build a wall to secure our borders, but they have other symbolism to exploit people’s fears about immigrants, chief among these being the Calais camps. Over the past 16 or 17 years, a number of different camps of refugees and migrants trying to get to the UK have been established around the port, before the French authorities have broken them up and dispersed the occupants. The ‘Jungle’ (see page 6) has recently met the same fate.
Until recently, the government’s response to the migrant crisis in Calais has been Trumpish in its inhumanity. Plans to build a concrete barrier to replace the fence along around a kilometre of the road leading to the ferry port were announced by the Home Office in September. Thanks to the campaigns of refugee charities and the Dubs amendment, though, the government has had to rethink its stance on the camp and specifically unaccompanied refugee children. Lord Alf Dubs successfully fought for an amendment to the Immigration Bill, which was debated in parliament earlier this year. Dubs was outraged by the government’s refusal to help the estimated 95,000 unaccompanied child refugees in Europe. The issue is deeply personal to the Labour peer as he was a child refugee brought to the UK on the Kindertransport in 1939.
It took nearly six months from the Dubs amendment’s approval for the government to act. The imminent closure of the ‘Jungle’ camp finally forced its hand and so far the response has been inadequate, as by the end of last month fewer than 300 children had been accepted into the UK. Most, if not all, of these children had a legal right to be in the UK under the Dublin III Regulation, which permits children seeking asylum to be fast-tracked from one EU member state to be reunited with relatives in another. At the time of writing, it is unclear if other children from the camp or other EU countries are being allowed to settle in the UK.
Kent County Council is currently caring for over 600 unaccompanied child asylumseekers and is appealing to the government for more cash. Refugee charities argue that local authorities across the country should commit to finding homes for a handful of refugee children each. If they were to do so, it is estimated that over 3,000 children could be accommodated.
Coverage of the refugee children story shifted to their ages when the first ones started to arrive in London last month. Tory MP David Davies called for compulsory dental checks to establish that they were under the age of 18. This would be illegal. Meanwhile, former footballer Gary Lineker attracted a whirlwind of opprobrium when, in a Twitter post, he described the treatment of these refugees by some as ‘hideously racist and utterly heartless’.
Across the Channel, French politicians have reacted to the crisis by arguing that due to the Brexit vote, Le Touquet, the 2003 agreement between France and Britain, should be scrapped so that control of the border is shifted back to Kent. Like the UK government, their policy focus seems to be on the immediate problem of the Calais camp rather than the 95,000 unaccompanied children across Europe.
In 1939, the British people believed they had a duty to offer homes to children like Dubs. The situation that those refugees faced is echoed today, with people displaced by conflict in countries such as Syria and Afghanistan. The solutions to the current crisis are to be found in strengthening co-operation between nations, not playing on prejudices and building walls. ■