During the August Bank Holiday weekend of 2015 public awareness of the refugee crisis arguably reached its peak. In particular, images of three-year-old Alan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach sparked public outrage, and a wave of ideological mobilisation. That is not to say that the country did not care prior to this incident, but for many months following that particular fatality social media outlets were awash with vocal outcries of sympathy.
Much has happened, however, since then. The world has suffered the election of Donald Trump, a referendum mandating the U.K.’s exit from the European Union, and waves of brutal and indiscriminate terrorist attacks across Europe, as well as the threat of right wing nationalists coming to power in France, to name but a few. However, whilst these events have been, without doubt, devastating, it is important not to forget about the continuing crisis across the middle-east and Mediterranean.
Amongst such a turbulent political atmosphere, it has been easy for the Government to get away with not pulling its weight in dealing with the refugee crisis. This is most apparent in the implementation of the Immigration Act 2016. Most notably, section 67 of the Act– the so-called ‘Dubs’ amendment – makes provision for the U.K. to accept an undefined number of unaccompanied asylum seeking children. The figure discussed in the original amendment was 3,000 children; however, the most recent figures from the Home Office show that just 200 children have been transferred under the system so far. Even now, (more than 8 months since the Act gained royal assent) the final number of children to be transferred under the system has not been announced in either chamber. Yet, with both Houses of Parliament focused on the Brexit drama, terrorism and President Trump, there is arguably little political energy to be afforded to the refugee crisis.
This means that the Government is able to get away with doing so little to fulfil its pledge to bring 20,000 Syrian refugees to the U.K. by 2020 under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme. We are nearly halfway towards the deadline of the pledge yet, as of mid-2016 less than 3,000 refugees have arrived in the U.K.
Equally, with such a turbulent political background, it is easy to miss the impact of the cuts to asylum seekers provisioned through the Immigration Act 2016. The Act removed section 4 support which provided financial provisions for migrants whose asylum claims have been rejected. Under the Act this provision has been replaced with Section 95a. However, in order to qualify for support under section 95A, individuals and families who have had their asylum application refused will need to demonstrate that they are destitute and face “a genuine obstacle to leave the United Kingdom”. This provision relies on families already being destitute, rather than preventing the creation of this destitution in the first place.
Section 67, the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme, and asylum support are just three areas out of many in which the British Government is failing to do its duty to protect vulnerable displaced people despite a capacity to do so.
However, there is a glimmer of hope in the form of the Government’s child safeguarding strategy to be released in May. This strategy review is an ideal opportunity to address some of the biggest challenges faced by unaccompanied children entering the British asylum system. Amongst other things the review has the potential to look at age assessments, legal guardians and family reunion provisions, as well as a review of the U.K.’s capacity to receive more child refugees, in order to revise the U.K.’s inhumane asylum policy.
In closing, with so much turmoil in the world – the impending Brexit negotiations, Trump’s imminent inauguration, and a world ravaged by terrorism – it is easy to turn inwards and neglect our moral responsibility to help displaced refugees facing unimaginable peril. We must remember that the UK is a compassionate country, which does have the ability to extend a helping hand to those with the ill-fortune to be caught up in brutal displacement. In any single one of the ideas discussed here, there is the potential to help others; we are able to do this, and we should, in order to ensure that this Parliament is remembered for doing something which promotes community and open arms, rather than enacting an agenda of narrow-mindedness and introversion.