By Angus Coyne
In recent weeks, the phrase “Migrant Crisis” has drifted from the backwater of Nigel Farage’s YouTube channel straight into the rapids of mainstream political discourse. Regrettably, the story associated with this phrase has picked up neither nuance nor relevant context on its voyage into the public eye. Not to diminish the efforts of the nation’s newest investigative journalist, but if such a crisis does exist then its nexus is not in Dover, where his spotlight has been circling, but 400 miles to the north-west, in Glasgow.
Even the word “migrant”, used in this context, is misleading. A migrant is a person who moves from one place to another, not someone fleeing terror or oppression. However, according to Frontex (an EU agency which controls EU borders), the majority of the “migrants” at Calais and Dunkirk have travelled there from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Sudan and Iraq. These are people fleeing unsafe and war-torn regions. In other words, they are refugees, and not merely migrants.
This raises the legitimate question: “Why are refugees seeking asylum traveling so far to reach the UK?” Are they in search of a generous benefits system and a comfortable life? Are other countries’ immigration forces foisting them onto us? Are they in fact aiming for the UK to target it with terror attacks? Do they salivate at the prospect of chlorinated chicken with deep fried Mars bars for afters? The answer to all of these questions (especially the last one), is no. The initial question is flawed.
The overwhelming majority of refugees from the countries listed are simply not coming to the UK. As you’d expect, refugees normally flee to the nearest safe country they can access. This is why it is Turkey, which shares a land border with Syria, that houses more refugees than any other country on Earth. Indeed, 85% of refugees are hosted in developing countries1 and the UK is estimated to house just 1% of the world’s 29.6 million refugees2.
That being said, why should refugees seeking asylum who’ve travelled to France continue onto the UK? Some argue that refugees are drawn to the UK due to its generous treatment of asylum seekers, and often go on to bemoan the weekly allowance afforded to asylum seekers. But this doesn’t add up. Asylum seekers in France have a weekly allowance of roughly £42.60, compared with approximately £37.75 in the UK3. Anyone who says asylum seekers are entering the UK from France for money, is either lying, or lazily regurgitating bogus arguments. Generally, these bogus arguments are espoused by intellectual authorities who consider us to be under threat from some of the world’s most vulnerable people, as they cross a busy international shipping lane in a rubber dingy.
The reality is that refugees come to the UK for many of the same reasons those of us live here choose to stay. According to Amnesty International, they choose the UK as they either have family, community or language connections.
You might hope that the tiny minority of the world’s refugees who do travel from as far afield as Syria to reach the UK, and survive the journey, would enter a safe environment from which to rebuild their lives. Three recent incidents in Glasgow suggest that this is not the case.
On Friday, 26 June, six people were injured in a mass stabbing on West George Street. This happened at the Park Inn Hotel, which at the time was housing around 100 asylum seekers. They had been moved to the hotel at short notice due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The suspected perpetrator of the stabbings was Badreddin Abadlla Adam, a Sudanese man seeking asylum in the UK. Speaking confidentially to the BBC, a member of Glasgow’s Sudanese community who knew Mr. Adam noted the effects that the move to the hotel had, saying: “He was mentally ill and actually his mental health deteriorated very badly when he stayed in the Park Inn.”
This deterioration is hardly surprising. Hundreds of asylum seekers in Glasgow were made to move into hotels at the end of March this year. For some, during this process their weekly allowance, of about £5 a day, was also removed. Mears Group PLC (who have been awarded three Asylum Accommodation and Support Contracts by the government) said this was done as handling notes and coins was thought to spread Covid-194. With zero income, these people were left unable to buy the most basic necessities.
This was the situation Adnan Walid Elbi found himself in, shortly before dying in a guest house on Renfrew Street in early May this year. Mr. Elbi was 30 years old, and a Syrian national. He was beaten and tortured by ISIS in Libya in his early twenties, before fleeing to Denmark at the age of 24. While in Denmark he learned that his father had been killed by ISIS.
After 5 years in Denmark he faced being deported, and so moved to the UK. He ended up in Glasgow in July 2019. Within months, he found himself legally barred from working, without income and housed in an unfamiliar hotel in the midst of a global pandemic.
Most recently, on 22 August, the body of Mercy Baguma was found in her flat in Govan. No one had heard from her for four days, during which time it seems her baby was surviving alone and without food5. It is thought Ms Baguma lost her job due to her right to work expiring.
These three cases are exceptionally disturbing, not least for their proximity to us here in Glasgow. They also show how misguided the “migrant crisis” narrative is. We see that asylum seekers in Glasgow are people who miss their relatives at home, who want to support their families as best they can through the most difficult of times, and who struggle with serious trauma.
However, in a city just 30 minutes from a national nuclear weapons stockpile, it pays to be as optimistic as possible. Happily, there is some hope to be found. Of the estimated 1.3 million refugees who entered Germany suddenly in 2015, recent studies show that 44 % rate their German skills as “good” or “very good”, and 75 % of them feel welcome in Germany6. This is due to a huge emphasis being put on the integration of these refugees into German society. This was the main topic in the 2017 German election.
The estimated 5,600 refugees7 who have crossed the channel by boat this year clearly aren’t a tidal wave; the number is a drop in the ocean. Instead of outsourcing responsibility for their wellbeing to private companies who haphazardly move them between accommodations and suddenly remove their paltry income, we should proudly aim to integrate these people into our society. The way to do this is by giving them the right to work, access to safe accommodation, free English language classes and sufficient financial support for them to survive.
There is a migrant crisis in the UK. It is one that springs from a lack of political will to seek a positive response to the trickle of refugees entering our waters, rather than from the refugees themselves, who are its victims.