coastguard rescue

Refugees, Bercow and Blair: How The UK Must Reflect Going Forward

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Early Boxing Day morning, local authorities intercepted numerous boats containing migrants who were making their way towards the UK for sanctuary.

49 Iranian, Iraqi and Afghan citizens were rescued including one child. The small vessels were travelling across the Channel towards Kent when they found themselves being intercepted.

Reports detail that a further two boats containing migrants suffering from hypothermia were found by French authorities and turned away from Britain whilst migrants reaching UK shores were sent for medical assessments before being spoken with by the appropriate British authorities. 

coastguard rescue
Even coastguard helicopter rescue was deployed to the scene [Getty Images/BBC]

It cannot be that it is considered ‘political correctness gone mad’ to demand better and more compassionate ways Britain can strive to help others.

The Home Office said: “Illegal migration is a criminal activity. Those who seek to come to the UK illegally and the ruthless criminals who facilitate journeys are all breaking the law and endangering lives.

“When people arrive on our shores unlawfully, we will work to return them to mainland Europe.”

However, this prompted backlash from experts including Kent Refugee Action Network’s Bridget Chapman who said the comments were “disgraceful” since the UN’s 1951 Refugee Convention protects migrants from being penalised for illegal entry and since there is actually no legal or safe way for asylum seekers to enter the UK to lodge their claims.

Chapman continued that it was an “extremely irresponsible statement” which “appears to be politically motivated and designed to whip up ill feelings towards desperate people”.

Immigration experts, lawyers and political writers speak often about the plight of those of all ages, of so many nationalities, who must flee their homes and their loved ones in order to attempt to find security in foreign lands. Yet this devastating reality has become poisoned to suit an anti-immigrant agenda pursued by MPs and unscrupulous officials who know better.

Just last year, former Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, declared a ‘major incident’ when a handful of migrants made the same journey on Christmas day, even going so far as to cut his holiday short to attend to the matter on 28 December.

[Asylum-seekers’] devastating reality has become poisoned to suit an anti-immigrant agenda pursued by MPs and unscrupulous officials who know better.

To make matters worse, by January this year Javid suggested that those making the perilous journey may not be ‘genuine asylum seekers’ since they hadn’t remained in France and that those who cross this way may not be eligible for asylum. Aside from Javid’s claims bordering on unlawful and functioning as an ominous warning to already suffering asylum-seekers, Javid as Home Sec knew very well that those breaching Britain’s borders were exercising their international human right and therefore cannot be punished for doing so.

Colin Yeo, leading immigration and asylum barrister said at the time:

“Sending genuine refugees to face persecution in order to dissuade others from seeking to come here is plainly illegal.

“I imagine the home secretary knows this, but if so it is depressing that he is still saying it as a way of trying to make himself sound tough. The latest asylum statistics show that around three-quarters of Iranian asylum claims succeed, so we are talking here about genuine refugees.”

Anti-migrant confidence has arguably exacerbated since this time last year what with Brexit hostility ramping up and the commonly perpetuated myth that Britain is ‘full up’ somehow being distorted into a factual belief. Vast parts of the country have subscribed to this narrative and voted in droves for parties and politicians who peddle it, despite figures showing very few asylum seekers are granted Refugee Status: out of 32,693 asylum applications this year, only 18,519 individuals were granted asylum.

As human beings and residents of the earth, we have a debt to humanity to aid the refugee crisis and take responsibility for our individual roles within it.

John Bercow demands “personal courtesy” in the arena of UK politics for 2020. [Channel 4/PA]

Channel 4’s 2019 Alternative Christmas message was delivered by John Bercow, former Speaker of the House of Commons, where he resided as Speaker for a decade. In his speech, Mr Bercow spoke of the sacred meaning of democracy and listening to others. He criticised the increase of offering populist, simple conclusions for complex political issues, including speaking openly about his position as a Remainer while his closest friend is a Brexiteer. This was perhaps an allusion to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s singular pledge in the run up to the GE2019 which was simply to ‘get Brexit done’.

Although admirable, there is a privilege in Bercow’s wish for us to get along regardless of political persuasions. As some in the Jewish community feared a Labour victory in the most recent election, thousands of Muslims are terrified that Islamophobia will run rife in the UK now Johnson has achieved his majority. 

Yet figures show very few asylum seekers are granted Refugee Status: out of 32,693 asylum applications this year, only 18,519 individuals were granted asylum

Sometimes, it is not possible to put politics aside because politics is personal, as it is for those terrified, freezing cold, desperate 49 men, women and children seeking safety in the UK as they navigated through unknown waters. However, Bercow’s message is still honourable and the Conservative Government would do well to heed his warning, especially as 2020 signifies the UK’s final departure and painful divorce from Europe and whatever consequences that may bring.

Yet it cannot be that it is considered ‘political correctness gone mad’ to demand better and more compassionate ways Britain can strive to help others. As human beings and residents of the earth, we have a debt to humanity to aid the refugee crisis and take responsibility for our individual roles within it, including learning from the Blair era and the consequential damage the Iraq war inevitably will – and has – had on the world.

So here’s to 2020 and hoping that the UK as a nation chooses kindness over hostility and compassion over an arbitrary numbers game.