One of our key areas of work is public awareness. It is therefore important that we make sure the right information is getting out to the public around the refugee crisis. We have unfortunately seen an increase in racist, xenophobic and islamaphobic comments since this crisis came to the media’s attention and we are trying to counter that with the correct facts and information.
The words the media and the general public often use to describe groups of people are often incorrect and this can lead to misunderstandings and perpetuating myths.
Is a person who has left their country of residence in order to find better work prospects, living conditions, to reunite with family or for access to better education. Migrants are protected by their governments should they chose to return back to the countries from which they left.
Migrants from outside the EU are subject to immigration controls and may need a visa to enter certain countries, including Britain. They do not have immediate access to social housing or benefits, but may have an eventual pathway to settlement and citizenship. They can also be detained or deported if they fail to comply with immigration laws.
What’s the difference between a refugee and an asylum seeker?
A refugee is defined as someone whose application for asylum has been accepted by the government having been recognised as needing protection under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. These are people fleeing war and persecution.
An asylum seeker is a person whom the government has not yet recognised as a refugee under the 1951 Convention. Asylum seekers are not permitted to work and must instead rely on State support.
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Here are some common statements that people make to support their anti immigration/anti refugee stance.
‘The Majority Of People Are Economic Migrants…’
There’s a prominent claim among immigration opponents that the majority of people who are entering Europe through irregular means during this crisis are not refugees, but rather economic migrants searching for economic opportunities.
While there is no definitive proof of the background and origin of every migrant and refugee entering Europe, UNHCR estimates that just over 50 percent of the people who have arrived to Europe by sea so far in 2015 are from Syria, a country ravaged by civil war where bombings and violence are a daily threat.
Some of the other prevalent nationalities arriving in Europe are from similarly war-torn states, like Afghanistan and Iraq. Many others are fleeing repression and sometimes forced conscription under regimes in Eritrea and Gambia.
In an analysis of migrant and refugee arrivals, The Economist estimates that 75 percent of people who take irregular sea routes to Europe are from countries whose citizens are usually granted EU protection in some form.
‘Refugees should stay in the first country they reach. If they leave they become economic migrants.’
Under the Dublin Protocol refugees should claim asylum in the first EU country they reach. Nowadays that usually means Greece or Italy. Neither can cope, so Greece just lets people through. This is not the fault of refugees but it’s true that most want to get to Germany or Sweden, where they may have relatives and where they know their children have a better chance of education and they may get work.
Syria’s neighbours – Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey – cannot cope with the four million Syrian refugees they’re hosting.
Turkey, which has taken in 1.9 million Syrians, does not actually grant Syrians living there refugee status as agreed upon in the Geneva Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. Turkey didn’t sign on to one part of the agreement, and therefore isn’t fully bound by it.
Instead, Ankara offers Syrian refugees temporary protection with the idea that they will one day leave. Additionally, conditions for refugees in Turkey have steadily deteroriated as humanitarian aid has dwindled, tensions with local populations have risen and camps have become overpacked.
In Lebanon, Syrians now make up one-fifth of the population. Over half of these, more than 1.1 million refugees live in insecure dwellings, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency.
Conditions in Jordan, which has over 600,000 Syrian refugees, are similarly dire. Two-thirds of the Syrian refugee population there lives in poverty, according to the U.N., while 1-in-6 live in extreme poverty.
Barriers preventing legal work in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey mean that refugees are often forced into an informal economy where they lack rights or a guaranteed minimum wage.
Refugee families who had hoped that by now the war would be over and they could go back to their old lives, realise that’s not possible, but if they stay where they are their children will not go to school. They’ll live forever in camps or building sites with no hope of a future. So they move. They’re still fleeing war. This is why UNHCR has asked European and other countries to accept more refugees from camps in neighbouring countries, as Britain is now doing.
‘They Don’t Look Like They Need Help’
Another criticism levied by anti-immigrant groups is that many people entering Europe have smartphones, are wearing expensive clothing or generally appear to be in good health.
The perverse notion that a person doesn’t look destitute or sickly enough to be granted asylum contains a fundamental lack of understanding about what being a refugee means. The people heading to Europe come from diverse backgrounds, including middle-class lives or wealthy and educated families, but they have been forced to flee due to horrific conflict.
Smartphones provide a vital means of communication and navigation along the routes to Europe. Refugees and migrants use these devices for GPS, as well as to contact family members and other travelers. They can also call or message for help from authorities should trouble arise on the dangerous journey.
‘They pay thousands to people smugglers. This proves they’re not genuine refugees’
You don’t have to be poor to fear Islamic State or President Bashar al Assad’s barrel bombs. Even rich people flee war. Many of the Syrians fleeing now are middle-class, English-speaking and university educated, but after five years of war life has become impossible. Globalisation means that many have relatives abroad who send money by Western Union or other transfer services.
‘They’re all men, which proves they’re not genuine refugees’
Oxfam and other agencies working in the refugee camps across Europe have reported that over 75% of the refugees are women and children, despite statements that many of those coming are mainly men. One of the implications is that men are less in need of refuge, but also that they are more likely to pose a security concern. It is impossible really to substantiate or refute the charge that an ‘extremist’ might also be seeking entry, other than to note that the recruitment of violent extremists has typically gone in the other direction, from the EU to Syria, and that people do not need to be sent across long distances to be party to these agendas (as they can be recruited remotely).
It is true that refugees walking on foot across Europe include men too, and who are no less in need of sanctuary, but more than half of the Syrian refugees in Europe are under 17 years of age and 38% are younger than 11. Some of these children have been separated from their parents and travel alone and others are born as refugees. When asked, parents explain that fleeing was the last resort. In the words of Warshan Shire, a Somali-British poet, ‘No one puts their child in a boat unless water is safer than land’.
‘Islamic State Militants Are Posing As Refugees’
There was one photo doing the rounds that showed an Islamic State fighter holding a rifle in Syria, then smiling in a separate image as he entered Europe wearing a T-shirt that says “thank you.”Another image claimed to show refugees holding an Islamic State flag and attacking German police.
In actuality, both photos don’t really show anything close to what people circulating the images online claim.
The first before-and-after image is that of a man profiled by the Associated Press who was a Free Syrian Army commander before fleeing the conflict. The flag photo is from years ago and unrelated to refugees, or possibly even the Islamic State.
The photos’ circulation is representative of a fear expressed by European officials and media outlets that Islamic State militants may be hiding among migrant groups in order to sneak into Europe and commit terror attacks. An unnamed Islamic State operative also told Buzzfeed in January that he aided in smuggling militants into Europe.
However, as things stand now, there is little to confirm these claims. Europe’s border control agency stated that there was no concrete evidence to support the idea that Islamic State militants are among migrants –
“I don’t see the need for ISIS to embark on such a convoluted scheme to carry out attacks or be a threat in the West,” Reinoud Leenders, associate professor in international relations and Middle East studies at King’s College London, told The Los Angeles Times. ‘After all, many members of the Islamic State are foreign fighters who already possess European citizenship,’ Leenders pointed out.
‘More refugees will add pressure on services – how will schools and hospitals cope?’
It is true that refugees fleeing persecution and war need immediate support, in the form of housing, medical and psychological care, and, in time, access to education for their children. Most European countries have the resources to provide this immediate help, and evidence suggests that in the long term, refugees, like other groups of migrants, are less likely to make use of core services, even while they likely to contribute significantly more in taxes. In particular, refugee children integrate well at school, bring a wealth of languages to the learning experience and have been credited in recent studies on the ‘London challenge’ with increasing attainment rates in schools. Refugees also contribute to core services, for example the British Medical Association (BMA) database currently registers about 1200 medically qualified people who came to Britain as refugees.
‘They’re coming for the benefits’
They’re coming because they want a future. Statistically, after an initial period of settling in, refugees and migrants are less likely to claim benefits than natives.
Many claim that Britain is a coveted destination for migrants because of its generous benefits system. Aside from the reality that most migrants have little prior knowledge of the exact nature of each European country’s asylum system, it is not true that the UK is a particularly lucrative option. Each asylum seeker in Britain gets only £36.95 to live on (and they are not usually allowed to work to supplement this sum). In France, whose policies are supposedly driving up the numbers at Calais, migrants actually receive substantially more. According to the Asylum Information Database,asylum seekers in France receive up to £56.62 a week. Germany and Sweden – the two most popular migrant destinations – pay out £35.21 and £36.84 a week respectively, only fractionally less than Britain.
‘We’re full. We can’t cope with any more people’
Despite the hysteria about numbers, the actual number of refugees in the UK has fallen by 76,439 since 2011. That’s according to Britain’s Refugee Council, which crunched the numbers gleaned from UN data and found that the number of refugees in the UK fell from 193,600 to 117,161 in the past four years. By comparison, the proportion of refugees housed by developing countries in the past 10 years has risen, according to the UN, from 70% to 86%. Britain could be doing far more.
If you are interested in donating to various sites across Europe for the refugee crisis then you can find your nearest donation centre in Cheshire here:
Chester: The Unity Centre, 17 Cuppin Street, Chester, CH1 2BN Tel: 01244 400730 for opening hrs
Warrington: Warrington Collegiate, Winwick Road WA2 8QA 9:30-5:30 Mon-Fri
The requirements for donated goods is constantly changing, but good quality clothing and shoes are always needed. If you can donate money it is often cheaper to purchase goods out there like food and toiletries than in the UK. Donation centres will normally be happy to give you the latest list of needed goods in Syria, Greece and Calais.