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Refugees are not illegal.

7 Sept 2020

Jess Wilson

Refugees are not illegal.

Following an increase of asylum seekers crossing the Channel into the UK, Home Secretary Priti Patel called the situation “appalling” and “shameful'', and says she will “not let up until this route is unviable”. She appointed a Clandestine Channel Threat Commander last month, and even after the death of 16-year-old Sudanese refugee Abdulfatah Hamdallah, insists on meeting what she calls an ‘illegal migrant crisis’ without sympathy or regard to the facts of the matter.

In reality, there is no crisis, and asylum seekers cannot, by definition, be ‘illegal’. There is nothing illegal about choosing the country in which you want to seek asylum, or getting there via a small vessel. As of the 7th of August, around 4000 asylum seekers made the crossing this year. While this is an increase on previous years, it is still not a large number of people, and indeed not a number that the UK could not accommodate given the thousands of empty homes across the country. In the current system, asylum seekers receive just £37.75 a week from the government and are not allowed to work. No one risks their lives to receive £37.75 from a foreign government. Refugees do it because their home countries are so unsafe that the treacherous channel crossing is preferable to what they are leaving behind. To behave as if people this desperate are threats, criminals or scroungers would be almost laughable if it wasn’t so evil. To shut down safe methods of entry into the country, then incorrectly calling unsafe methods ‘illegal’ is a cruel, calculated and dishonest political power grasp. Conveniently at a time when the government needs a way to shift attention away from itself.

The Conservatives have used the increase in channel crossings as an opportunity to stir up fear and hatred of innocent asylum seekers, backed (as ever) by the right-wing press. Their response to the current situation in Dover is a classic example of divide and conquer, in which they pit Britain’s working class and asylum seekers against each other as if they’re in competition for scarce resources. In reality, of course, there is no real scarcity, merely distribution malfunction. The Conservatives, unable or unwilling to tackle the many genuine issues facing the country, must create fake problems and provide pointless solutions to appear effective and distract from their terrifying incompetencies and deliberate wrongdoings.

This begs the question, how will future governments react to genuine scarcity in the future, as the planet becomes increasingly unable to support human life as we know it? We know that it won’t be long before we see a vast increase in climate refugees as sea levels rise, and more areas of the planet become uninhabitable. This is likely to be paired with food shortages as crops fail, and economic breakdown as standard production practices become unviable. Right now, there is no real refugee ‘crisis’ at all in the UK, merely refugee presence. In fact, the UK is home to just 1% of the world’s refugees, who have been so antagonised that a YouGov survey last month found 49% of Britons do not sympathise with those crossing the Channel. When the situation does, inevitably, become genuinely dire, just how much more fear and hatred will be stirred up? And what inhumane policies will be dreamt up in order to pander to it?

Image by Ilias Bartolini