Refugee Week: The real refugee crisis and what we can do about it

13 June 2017

There isn’t a refugee crisis in the UK. Asylum applications have gone down over the last 15 years. Last year around 600,000 people moved to the UK. Only 5% of them - about 30,000 people - claimed asylum.

There are far more refugees in the rest of Europe. Germany received more than 475,000 asylum applications in 2015. But only a small fraction of refugees ever make it to Europe. Many can't make the journey for all sorts of reasons - they're too poor, too old or too ill. Others want to stay close to home even if it's too dangerous to live there. They're in countries like Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Pakistan. There are 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon - around a third of the population. That's a crisis. Lebanon is a poorer, more fragile country than the UK and the presence of so many refugees is a huge strain on its society and infrastructure.

It's obvious that the current system isn't working. It favours richer, younger, healthier refugees who are able to make it to Europe. It leads to people smuggling, exploitation and thousands of deaths every year.

We can do better

The answer isn't to force people back to unstable countries which can't cope or to put them in isolated camps where they have no chance of rebuilding their lives.

What should we do? The immediate priority has to be for countries like the UK to give more aid to poor countries where most refugees are living. We also need international cooperation on more ambitious resettlement programmes so that desperate people don't have to risk their lives trying to get to rich countries.

And we need to change attitudes. Instead of inciting fear and hatred (remember Ukip's Breaking Point poster?), political leaders and public figures should encourage generosity and openness. They can promote initiatives which allow people to get directly involved in helping refugees to settle in the UK, from teaching English to a newly arrived family, to sponsoring a refugee abroad to move to the UK. Canada's Private Sponsorship of Refugees programme allows people to get together to support individual refugees to move to Canada. This kind of programme won't solve the crisis by itself but it helps. The situation isn't hopeless. There are things we can do. Let's do them.

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