Just a few years ago, the staggering loss of life as refugees fled from war-torn countries was an issue that haunted the national consciousness of nearly every country in Europe. Footage of desperate migrants boarding makeshift boats dominated the news, and the world reeled in shock when images of the small, washed up body of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi made international headlines. There was outcry for the nations of Europe to open their doors to asylum seekers. Two and a half years on, and sentiments seem to have changed somewhat. But with the migrant crisis still very much present in Europe, should we be doing more?

with the migrant crisis still very much present in Europe, should we be doing more?

It was in October 2015 that the crisis reached its uppermost peak, as 221,454 migrants entered into Europe within a single month (UNHCR). The number of refugees risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean has steadily decreased since then, but the crisis is far from over. As of the beginning of February, 7,934 immigrants have already arrived in Europe in 2018- a figure not including the estimated 243 who are feared to be dead or missing. If migration were to continue at this rate, another 95,000 migrants will arrive in Europe by the end of the year, and nearly another 3,000 may lose their lives.

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So what is the UK doing to tackle this ongoing issue? Well quite frankly, not a lot. Britain was not exactly hot off the mark in the face of the migrant crisis, taking in just over 4,400 refugees by the end of 2016.  Since the beginning of her premiership, Theresa May has also consistently resisted calls to take in more refugees.

Germany: The example to follow?

It is Germany that has somewhat led the response to the refugee crisis, accommodating over 1 million asylum seekers. Angela Merkel’s government has also taken laudable steps to integrate migrants, funding language learning initiatives and offering financial incentives to companies offering them employment.

And these policies appear to be working. A study by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) last year found that 14% of asylum seekers in Germany had found work, with 80% of their employers reporting being ‘highly satisfied’ with their performance.

Merkel’s efforts have received global praise, not only from the OECD, but also from the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), who added that these policies have gained Germany a “credible voice internationally”.

However, the process of integration in Germany has been far from smooth. Government statistics published last month indicate that 9% of total crime committed in Germany in 2016 was connected to refugees. Unfortunately, this link has only been exacerbated by notable high-profile attacks around the time that Germany was taking in most migrants. In December 2015, New Year’s Eve celebrations in Cologne became the scene for a disgraceful mass sexual assault on over 1000 women, in which the perpetrators were found to be predominantly asylum seekers. One year later came the attack on a Christmas Market in Berlin in which 12 people tragically died. The attacker was thought to have been a radicalised refugee.

Partly as a result of the perceived link between crime and refugees, hostility towards them has grown. In 2016 there were 10 attacks per day being carried out against immigrants across Germany, whilst support for the far-right party Alternative für Deutschland has also grown as a direct consequence of surfacing tensions. As such, Merkel remains under pressure to resolve the issues presented by the last few years of mass migration.

The social tensions faced by Germany have perhaps contributed to the UK’s reluctance to accommodate more refugees. Indeed, the government is currently proactively keeping asylum seekers out. £100 million has been spent in the past 3 years to secure the UK border with Calais, with another £44.5 million pledged earlier this year following May’s talks with French President Emmanuel Macron.

The Question of Calais: a “more humane approach”?

 May and Macron signed a new treaty on the 19th of January, working towards what Macron described as not only a “more efficient” but also a “more humane approach” to refugees in Calais. The accord will slash the time taken to process requests for asylum, reducing the wait from 6 months to one month for adults.

This comes following Macron’s pledge during his winning election campaign last year to renegotiate the 2003 Le Touquet agreement. Le Touquet allows Britain to carry out border checks in France and vice versa, thereby meaning that those trying and failing to enter the UK via Calais often remain in France. As such, it has become a point of contention, contributing to the proliferation of refugee camps around Calais. The largest of these, ‘The Jungle’ camp, held an estimated 7,000 refugees before its forcible demolition in late 2016. Up to 700 migrants are still thought to be living in the area some 16 months later.

Tensions there are rife. Reports from as recently as October denounce the “excessive and life-threatening levels” of police violence against refugees in Calais (The Refugee Rights Data Project). Further evidence of escalating tension comes with the mass brawls that broke out at various sites around the city on the 2nd of February, some amongst queues for food handouts. The press has linked the disturbances to the new Anglo-French agreement, which has reportedly led to a 25% increase in refugees coming to the area.

So What Next for the UK?

 The refugee crisis is doubtlessly one of the most complex humanitarian issues of our time, and it appears that Europe is still far from reaching a solution. In a poll conducted last year, 73% of Europeans said that they wanted the EU to do even more to manage issue (Eurobarometer). However in light of the loss of enthusiasm across Europe for accommodating refugees, I do wonder if these same 73% would be wholly willing to welcome asylum seekers into their own communities, and I think that it is there that the problem lies.

 The refugee crisis is doubtlessly one of the most complex humanitarian issues of our time, and it appears that Europe is still far from reaching a solution

Despite repeated public outcry that ‘something must be done’, there has been a serious reluctance in the UK to tackle the issue ourselves. With this, being an island has made it far easier to evade the problem at hand, as Le Touquet unfairly leaves the French to bear the brunt of refugee migration.

Of course, the last 3 years have not provided the best circumstances for a British government to open its doors to an influx of immigrants. The surging popularity of UKIP ahead of the 2015 general election, the result of the 2016 EU referendum and high-profile terror attacks around the UK in 2017 have all cultivated nationalism and uncertainty across Britain. That the government has had quite enough on its plate in some ways explains our lack of action on the migrant crisis.

However, to me, that is simply not good enough. It is not good enough to turn our backs on people in desperate need because of ‘bad timing’.

Furthermore, if the new May-Macron agreement functions in the way that France hopes, there will be more refugees arriving in the UK. The government needs to prepare to accommodate them. Following Germany’s example in integrating asylum seekers into society and offering them the social and economic opportunities they need to thrive is the only way in which the UK can balance its moral, humanitarian responsibilities with the need to limit social tensions at home. Neglecting to do so will only pave the way for social divisions and disillusionment.

In any case, the only certainty is that the crisis is ongoing. The number of refugees reaching Europe may no longer being in the same dizzying heights as in the summer of 2015, but our governments cannot go on pretending that it is not happening at all. It is not only shameful, it is quite simply no longer sustainable.

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