UK turning a blind eye to refugees

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THE UK is turning a blind eye to suffering on its doorstep by failing to protect vulnerable refugees, who have been displaced by conflict, violence, persecution and poverty, a group of 13 aid and refugee agencies said yesterday.

The lack of adequate response from the UK and European governments to the more than a million refugees who arrived in Europe in 2015 ‘has compounded the suffering and created a humanitarian crisis on Britain’s doorstep’. Next week, it will be a year since up to 800 people drowned trying to reach Lampedusa, a tragedy that spurred the EU into holding its first summit on the refugee crisis.

But successive summits have done little to improve the situation – the deal struck between the EU and Turkey to deport refugees from Greece ‘is the latest callous attempt to shut the door on desperate people who have already fled their homes and risked a treacherous sea crossing’.

Oxfam, the British Refugee Council, the International Rescue Committee (IRC-UK) and ten other agencies say it’s not enough for the UK government to provide aid for refugees in countries like Lebanon and Jordan. The UK has an obligation to offer a safe haven to its fair share of refugees and do all it can to ensure protection for people on the move, whatever their legal status,’ Maya Mailer, Oxfam’s Head of Humanitarian Policy said.

‘The UK is trying to pretend that this is someone else’s problem, and that refugees and migrants could and should be dealt with elsewhere. But people who are desperate will take huge risks to reach safety. The UK needs to accept its moral responsibility to offer a safe haven to the world”s poorest and most vulnerable – men, women and children who have been made homeless by war, violence and disasters.’

In the report A Safe Haven? the agencies express concerns that reception centres in Greece and Italy are beginning to resemble detention centres run by military personnel. This lacks humanity and stigmatises those seeking help as if they are a security threat.

The report lays out the steps the UK needs to take to respond to the global displacement crisis, including:

• expand the safe and legal routes to reach protection in the UK

• improve the humanitarian response in Europe, including humane reception conditions at borders and in transit countries

• ensure access to a fair, effective and humane asylum system

• improve conditions in countries hosting large numbers of displaced people and

• tackle the causes behind forced displacement.

British Refugee Council Chief Executive Maurice Wren said: ‘While European leaders demonstrate a collective failure of political leadership and moral courage, people who have escaped war and tyranny are met with barbed wire and tear gas, mums are forced to bathe their infants in dirty puddles, and yet more refugee children drown on Europe’s shores.’

Melanie Ward, Associate Director of Policy and Advocacy for IRC-UK said: ‘There is an urgent need for the UK to live up to its global responsibility by expanding pathways to protection for refugees seeking sanctuary. Without alternatives, thousands are left with no other option but to turn to smugglers and embark on dangerous journeys.’