Comment: Britain has a responsibility toward Calais migrants

Migrants and asylum seekers try to get into the UK on the back of lorries in Calais
Migrants and asylum seekers try to get into the UK on the back of lorries in Calais

By Keith Taylor

The prime minister's comments yesterday about the situation in Calais not only show a total loss of perspective but indicate a real failure to address the growing crisis.

It's clear all sense of proportion has been lost as Cameron sympathises with British holidaymakers while displaying a lack of humanity towards the migrants risking their lives in Calais. British holidaymakers are being inconvenienced, no doubt, but the victims of this crisis are the migrants and asylum seekers who have fled war, poverty and persecution and are being failed by the UK's border system. Nigel Farage's pre-emptive warning that a British national could soon be killed as a result of the chaos - when nine migrants have already died in the past two months alone - should in fact serve as a marker of how pervasive the 'them and us' rhetoric has become in this country’s politics.

Cameron's comments this morning - promising greater security at the Calais border and more deportations of 'illegal' immigrants from Britain - will only stoke up tension among the public, who are already subjected to inflammatory headlines about migrant 'invasions'.

But the prime minister's comments also strike a deeply uncomfortable note for those of us who consider this country to be a place where those fleeing terror or persecution can rebuild their lives. His promise that the UK will not become a 'safe haven' for migrants is staggering: the UK is the world's sixth largest economy - and a country with a proud history of welcoming refugees. We have a responsibility to offer sanctuary to those who need it and, let's be honest, we do bear some responsibility for unrest and instability in other parts of the world.

The government's proposals - for a new, higher fence, and greater numbers of police - are a myopic reaction to the recent spotlight placed on the issue. They are the antithesis to the compassionate, collaborative long-term solution needed.

Having the UK's border in France without any mechanism for those hoping to enter the UK via Calais to seek asylum here is clearly not working, particularly as the UK government is refusing to take responsibility for the plight of people camped there. 

Neither is the UK government's resistant approach to EU negotiations around resettlement of refugees, as a result of which we are offering a home to far fewer people than we should. Out of the four million people fleeing violence in Syria, for example, the UK government has pledged to resettle fewer than 1,000.

The current situation highlights that now, more than ever, the UK needs to work within a European-wide framework not only to ensure that those in need of asylum are able to find it, but to address the factors - like climate change, disease and poverty - which are forcing people to cross continents in search of safety.

Keith Taylor is Green MEP for South East England

The opinions in's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.


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