Convoy to Calais is a powerful message of solidarity, but we must do more
Europe is facing the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War – it’s a test of our humanity, a test of our principles and a test of genuine European co-operation.
Within this context, I recently attended the World Humanitarian Summit as Labour’s Shadow International Development Secretary.
After the summit, International Development Secretary Justine Greening, who attended on behalf of the UK Government, said she had used the humanitarian conference to ‘advance our UK objectives’ and ‘reaffirm the U.K.’s commitment to compliance with international humanitarian law’, adding that she would hold the UN to the commitments made.
It is striking that Greening evokes international law and the need to scrutinize the UN when her government routinely ignores UN appeals for the UK to act on the European emergency with regard to refugees and adhere to international law.
Prior to the summit, UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon proposed a fairer approach to sharing the burden of refugees with host countries and a target to reduce internal displacement by 50 per cent by 2030.
And we must always remember that according to Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right to ask for asylum. If it is everyone’s right to ask for asylum, it is incumbent on our government to allow asylum-seekers to ask for that help.
Yet it becomes clearer by the day – as a picture of a drowned baby captured the recent week of tragedy in the Mediterranean – that governments across Europe are failing to accept responsibility as thousands are drowning and the desperate situation facing thousands more refugees.
At least 700 may have died at sea in the busiest week of migrant crossings from Libya towards Italy this year, the UN Refugee agency said. We must not allow thousands to drown – we should be establishing immediate safe and legal routes for those arriving.
In terms of the scale of the crisis, over a million refugees arrived into southern Europe in 2015; in the first six weeks of this year the rate increased tenfold on the same period last year. The number of missing children across Europe has topped 10,000.
Earlier this year, I travelled to Lesbos to see the waterway which is also a graveyard for thousands of people escaping war and poverty in the hope of a better life.
This followed myself and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn visiting the refugee camp in Calais that has become known as the Calais Jungle. The purpose of my visits was both to offer support and to see first-hand what conditions are like for people staying there.
The crisis has escalated and is escalating. Instead of addressing the issues, fences and detention centres are being built and people are being deported to warzones where homes and lives have been destroyed.
Britain needs to work with Europe to help provide opportunity for these people fleeing the horrors of war and conflict to rebuild their lives by contributing to our societies and economies.
Within this context, I welcome the calling of the Convoy to Calais by Stand up to Racism and a range of community and civil society groups plus major trade unions on Saturday 18 June, which will be a huge moving protest and one of the largest displays of solidarity with refugees this country has seen.
The convoy is both practical aid and also a huge moving protest at the way governments across the continent are failing refugees.
Now more than ever we need a huge response to the refugee crisis to counter the rhetoric across Europe that is trying to demonise and disenfranchise victims of war, oppression and poverty.
Instead, earlier this year, David Cameron added insult to injury by referring to the people at the Calais camp as ‘a bunch of migrants’.
The government must stop playing into a toxic narrative that claims showing compassion for people who are the victims of poverty and war is wrong.
After last summer’s campaigning on the issue and the recent Refugees Welcome Here demonstration, this is the time to come together and to build up the pressure again.
We must redouble our efforts for fair and humane treatment of refugees, and contribute to a shared European endeavour to bring about an effective and sustainable solution to the emergency on our doorstep.
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