Anglo-French refugee blame game will cause more deaths
The writer is the Labor MP for Wigan and the shadow foreign minister
He blamed France. France blamed Britain. But at least 27 people, including two children, have died. This is the worst, but not the only, incident of its kind since we started counting deaths in the Channel seven years ago.
When French-English Relations embroiled in a public war of words, focusing on symptoms rather than causes, little has been done to address the real dynamics of this humanitarian crisis. The situation in the Channel is only one manifestation of a global challenge: a world 26 million refugees, widespread conflict, dysfunctional diplomacy and populist politics.
With solidarity in the desperate shortage of supplies, the nations sought to outdo each other by strange measures to deter the desperate. The EU pays countries to keep asylum seekers away. Australia sends them to remote islands to be processed. The UK government has come up with the idea of using wave machine to deter the boats. However, to the apparent surprise of the politicians who came up with these plans, people kept moving.
What will be done? First, we should make it a priority to focus together on the unresolved conflicts and chronic instability that plague the world. Protracted major conflicts have been classified as “too hard,” while the United Nations struggles to raise the funds needed to maintain basic humanitarian programs. The main countries of origin for those arriving in Europe have all experienced recent or ongoing conflicts – countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Sudan, to which Britain recently cut aid.
As long as the world cannot work together to resolve these conflicts – like the war in Syria, which is now longer than the two world wars combined – people will keep moving. Meanwhile, climate change will exacerbate and create new changes, as water and food become scarce in the fastest-warming parts of the world. Without action from all governments, everywhere, millions of people will be forced to move.
Second, we need to work together on a plan to get help to the areas most affected by the movement of people. During the recent Afghan evacuation, as we tried to create safe routes out of the country, many Afghans came to the border with Pakistan. But, as the Pakistani government explained to me, the country faces a challenging pandemic, with limited access to vaccines. While Boris Johnson’s government is asking them to add 1.4 million refugees already in the country, he’s also cutting back aid to Pakistan.
We should not forget that 85% of refugees reside in developing countries. Letting people languish in refugee camps for decades prepares them to bet everything, even their lives, on the prospect of a good future.
Third, as Labor has urged, the UK should open up safe and legal routes this will reduce the value of smugglers making big bucks from everyone’s desperation – we should encourage other countries to do the same. On the makeshift boat to Dover on Thursday, was an Afghan soldier who had given up hope that safe and legal routes would open up. Three months after the prime minister promised to “mobilize heaven and earth” to help Afghans in danger because of their support for Britain, the Afghanistan Resettlement Plan has not even opened.
The status quo benefits only two groups: smugglers and populist politicians around the world, who are not interested in working together to solve the large, complex issues of conflict, pressure and climate change. But while they refuse, the world is left behind by the consequences of war, climate change, the mass displacement of people, and the horror of children drowning on our shores. As long as the blame game continues, so will human misery, chaos, and despair. They will leave only on condition that we let them.