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World leaders look on as refugees drown

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Dave Sewell looks at a United Nations Refugee Agency report which details the scale of the crisis as world leaders plan a new clampdown on refugees
Issue 2522
The real face of the refugee crisis—Afghan refugees in Athens
The real face of the refugee crisis—Afghan refugees in Athens (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Heads of state from around the world met on Monday to discuss a solution to the acute refugee crisis. This was followed by a “leaders’ summit” led by the US on Tuesday.

Aiming for international cooperation could seem like good news. But states already cooperate—to hold refugees back with deadly results.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) found that by the end of 2015 a record 65.3 million people were forcibly displaced.

That’s one in every 113 people on the planet, more than the population of Britain, and a jump of six million since 2014.

The stunning figure doesn’t count the millions fleeing poverty. Wars in Yemen and South Sudan that were among the fastest growing sources of refugees have only intensified since it was compiled.

The proportion to reach Europe is tiny—and Europe’s rulers are determined to keep it that way.

Repressing migration has always been wrong. As a response to an historic refugee exodus, it can only trap people in war zones or drive them into the sea.

Almost two thirds are internally displaced within their own countries.

Of the 21.3 million people UNHCR counts as refugees—those who have fled their country—more than half are from war-torn Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia.

The two main destinations were Turkey and Pakistan. Five of the top ten were in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Some 298,099 refugees have reached Europe by sea this year so far, according to UNHCR. Almost half of these crossed the Mediterranean into Italy.

A Turkish, European Union (EU) and Nato clampdown on the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece has made the longer, deadlier Italian route more important.


So even though the number crossing is down from over a million last year, the deaths aren’t slowing down. Some 3,210 people are already believed to have died in 2016, compared to around 4,000 for all of 2015.

The plan is now to reproduce the Aegean clampdown in Libya. The EU’s Operation Sophia is sending boats and over 1,200 naval personnel to train Libya’s rump state and police its coast.

And a cash-for-borders deal agreed by the EU and mostly African states last year is nearing ratification. Jordan, Lebanon, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Mali, Ethiopia, Tunisia and Libya are the first to get funding from a “Migration Partnership Framework”.

Aiming to grow to more than £50 billion, it bribes major countries of origin and transit to keep migrants out of Europe.

European Commission vice president Frans Timmermans promised a “results based approach” that would “reward those third countries willing to cooperate effectively with us and to ensure that there are consequences for those who do not”.

US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has deservedly been mocked for his pledge to build a wall on the US border.

But the Tories are building a wall at Britain’s border in Calais—matching those the EU has already built along its external borders with Turkey and Morocco.

Repressing migration has always been wrong. As a response to an historic refugee exodus, it can only trap people in war zones or drive them into the sea.

European states stick together to keep desperate out

European states band together to control migration, but they also fall out over who pays for EU programmes and who takes in refugees.

Britain’s government was a key sponsor of the EU-Turkey pact. Until Brexit happens it will remain part of the EU’s anti-refugee operation.

Despite threatening the status of EU migrants in Britain, the Tories hope to keep up this grim cooperation—in large part through Nato.

Other European countries sent boats and guards to patrol the Aegean through EU border force Frontex.

But Britain was always marginal to Frontex because it didn’t join the Schengen space.

So it sent boats through Nato instead. Since the Brexit referendum British officials have reiterated their commitment to EU-Nato cooperation.

And Hungary is on course for a major confrontation with the EU as its hard right government opposes taking in any refugees. It has called a referendum next month on whether the EU should be able to override parliament and settle refugees there.

The government campaign has seen racist posters put up all over the country. The slogans include, “Did you know that since the start of the immigration crisis the harassment of women has gone up in Europe?”

Luxembourg’s foreign minister Jean Asselborn called for Hungary to be kicked out of the EU.

The resettlement scheme itself—which promises that some refugees in Greece, Italy and Turkey will eventually be offered legal passage elsewhere—is tokenistic and ineffective.

But it’s essential to the EU to keep the countries with large numbers of refugees willing to act as border guards to the rest.

No escape from war in Somalia

Kenya’s government declares Somalia to be at peace.

It aims to close Daadab, the world’s largest refugee camp, by November. Over 320,000 Somalis live in Daadab, some born there.

UNHCR is offering them £300 to return to Somalia.

But many find no safety, as Amina told NGO Human Rights Watch. She took her children back to her village.

Two days later fighting broke out.

They fled to a camp inside Somalia, where Amina was raped by a government official. They went back to Kenya, but were no longer recognised as refugees or eligible for rations.

Most refugees are children

A staggering 51 percent of the refugees for whom UNHCR had data were children. Many had been separated from their parents.

An amendment to the Immigration Act, moved by Labour’s Lord Alf Dubs, commits Britain to bringing in some of these children. There are estimated to be over 800 in the “jungle” at Calais on Britain’s doorstep alone—many with relatives in Britain.

Yet four months after the act was passed, not a single child has been brought in under the scheme. There is no attempt being made to make contact with those eligible.

Britain can take more kids in

As of June, Britain had resettled around 2,600 of the 20,000 Syrian refugees promised by David Cameron.

That’s a tenth of the 26,000 Syrian refugees taken in by Canada—and just under a tenth of a percent of the 2.7 million living in Turkey.

His target of 20,000 by 2020 is in danger of being missed.

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