On February 2, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees held a meeting to discuss the UK’s response to the refugee crisis. The meeting, titled “From Damascus to Dunkirk: Responding humanely to refugees at our border,” was packed with activists and community members, with not a single seat left unfilled.
The panel consisted of five members:
David Burrowes MP, Vice-Chair of the APPG on Refugees
Yvette Cooper MP, Chair of the Labour Taskforce on Refugees
Dr Natalie Roberts, UK Refugees and Migration Advisor, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)
Alex Fraser, Head of Refugee Support, British Red Cross
Maurice Wren, Chief Executive, British Refugee Council
Panelists were vocal and passionate about the need for the Government to take a more active role in addressing the crisis. All had personally witnessed the conditions in Calais and Dunkirk and told vivid stories of the desperation and appalling conditions they saw there.
Dr Roberts cited the severe illnesses—most of which are caused by inhumane living conditions in the camps rather than the perilous journey to France—that her organisation treats among the refugee population.
Mr Wren emphasized that the refugee ‘crisis’ is not so much a product of dangerous conditions abroad as it is symptomatic of policies employed by European governments.
“An offer to accept 20,000 refugees is dwarfed by the global need,” said Mr Wren of the UK’s current stance.
Ms Cooper stressed the balance that needs to be struck between sanctuary and order. She argued that, in order to identify and assess genuinely vulnerable asylum seekers, the border controls that the Schengen removed need to be re-established. Cooper highlighted the global scale of the crisis and dismissed the idea that British exit from the European Union would somehow eliminate responsibility for addressing the issue.
All panelists emphasized the failings in implementing the Dublin Regulations. Mr Fraser argued that most of the thousands of refugees in Dunkirk and Calais have legitimate claims to enter the UK because they have family members in the country. However, he said that only one such claim to enter via the Dublin Regulations was successful in 2015.
Prompted by questions from an attendee, the panelists clarified that they are not advocating for elimination of borders, but rather for improving the existing framework to ensure that legitimate asylum claims are not left unheard. In addition, they highlighted the contradiction between the requirement that asylum seekers be in the country to claim asylum and the reality that there are no real legal routes to such entry.
The panel also emphasized the need for more efficient routes to family reunification, which can be delayed for almost a year under the Dublin Regulations. They repeatedly addressed the vulnerability of unaccompanied children across Europe and called on Britain to actively create pathways to bring those children to safety in this country.
The discussion focused not only on concrete policy changes the British government should make, but also on the emotional and physical trauma that asylum seekers endure as they flee their homes to reach safety.
Members of the audience who themselves had spent months at the camp at Calais waiting for entry into Britain stood and spoke of their eventual desire to return to their homelands and the necessity of their flight to Europe.