Comment: Corbyn gets it right on refugees

We must work together with our European colleagues to tackle the root causes of this crisis


I was encouraged to see Jeremy Corbyn spend last weekend visiting refugee camps in Calais and elsewhere, so he could witness first-hand the awful conditions that refugees endure every day.

When I visited Calais in August of last year, I was appalled by what Jeremy rightly called the ‘fetid’ state of the camp, whose population has now reached 3,000 refugees including many children. Six months of rain, snow and an expanding population have made what was already a desperate humanitarian situation much worse. 

So far the UK has largely stood apart from other European countries faced with exactly the same refugee crisis to deal with – the largest movement of refugees since the Second World War. It took months for the UK government to liaise properly with French authorities and to start making the security changes necessary to improve safety in Calais, and when they did respond it was too little, and too late.

The Channel tunnels for freight and passengers are still regularly disrupted and refugees are still dying while trying to get through this incredibly unsafe route. 

Rather than supporting attempts to have a coordinated EU response, David Cameron has, time and time again, positioned himself at the sidelines. Yes, the UK has an opt-out from EU asylum policy, but countries like Ireland which also have such an opt-out have supported, rather than jeered at, EU initiatives for emergency location of refugees from the worst-hit European countries.

Even when it comes to the no-brainer of better coordinating search and rescue, Cameron only abandoned his previous objections when he was forced to by public horror at the death toll in the Mediterranean.

In the next few months, we will see temperatures rise and seas calm, which means we could witness even more desperate families trying to make the perilous journey to Europe. We risk a repeat of Operation Stack on our roads and yet more casualties trying to perilously cross into our country under the Channel, and into other EU member states over the Med and through Turkey.

We must work together with our European colleagues to tackle the root causes of this crisis and bring peace and stability to Libya, Syria and Eritrea. Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy lead, has been quietly but effectively making some progress here; sadly, the UK government has largely been conspicuous by its absence.

We also need to engage with attempts to relocate those refugees who are already here in the EU; and to improve security and safety in Calais, now effectively the UK’s border with France.

The Dover-Calais route is essential not just for the UK but for all of Europe, yet it has been left down to Labour politicians to try and work with our European partners to improve the situation, in the absence of UK government action. 

We need to acknowledge that the best – and only – way of responding to the refugee crisis is to work with other countries to solve it, and that the UK can do this by participating in, and trying to shape, EU initiatives. Cameron can act like a latter-day King Canute if he likes, trying to ignore developments in the rest of the world. Thankfully, on this issue Jeremy Corbyn’s feet are much more firmly on the ground.

Anneliese Dodds is Labour MEP for the South East of England

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