THE TORIES’ response to the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War is to allow a mere 20,000 Syrians to settle in the UK over the next five years – an average of 4,000 a year. It will take nearly a year for the first refugees to arrive, so bureaucratic are the rules governing the scheme.
By contrast, Germany expects to receive up to a million refugees this year alone. And not a single one of the refugees who have risked life and limb, clambering aboard unseaworthy dinghies, walking miles along rail-tracks, or boarding airtight lorries at Calais, will be allowed into Fortress Britain.
Instead, David Cameron says that Britain will only admit “those most in need”: the very young or the very old, the infirm or victims of torture who have remained in camps in Turkey, Lebanon or Jordan, through the Vulnerable Persons Relocation (VPR) scheme.
But the VPR is a wretched get-out clause. Under its rules, a mere 216 Syrians have been granted asylum in Britain since March 2014. The oft-quoted figure of nearly 5,000 Syrian refugees in Britain refers mostly to Syrians already living in the UK who cannot return home. Shamefully, 145 have been deported back to Syria since 2011.
And children brought in under Cameron’s scheme could be deported as soon as they turn 18, to devastated countries they can barely remember and where they know no one.
Raiding foreign aid
The response from local authorities, hit by years of cuts in central government grants and a cap on council tax rises, was to ask how the government would help them cope with the new arrivals, many of whom would be in need of significant support.
George Osborne’s cunning plan was that money could be diverted from the foreign aid budget to help pay for housing and local services in the first year. What happens after that is anyone’s guess.
Amongst the losers from these cuts in foreign aid will the very same refugee camps on Syria’s borders that the Tories claim they are trying to relieve.
The United Nations announced in September that its refugee agencies were broke, and could no longer provide the meagre $13 food vouchers they were handing out each month to the 3.79 million refugees on Syria’s borders. In Iraq, 189 health clinics have already closed.
As one Syrian father told the BBC, “What am I supposed to do? I would rather take my chances travelling to Europe with my children and risk sudden death than watch them die slowly from hunger.”
What can Labour do?
Our councillors can step up a challenge to Osborne. With our support they can fight for funding for refugees.
Already trade unionists and anti-racists have been linking with migrant and refugee organisations in the camps. We can contact and support sister organisations in Calais, across France and in the rest of Europe and work together to highlight the plight of the refugees.
Finally, Labour should urgently review its policy through a grassroots discussion where socialists will argue that all immigration controls are used by capitalists to divide working class people, that migrants contribute to society – so long as they are allowed to work, and that if we want to stop the dangerous mass migration of desperate people we should stop bombing and destabilising their countries in the first place.