The Refugee Crisis

We are currently facing the greatest refugee and humanitarian crisis since the Second World War. And it's poor countries, not rich western countries, who look after the vast majority of the world's refugees; the UN's Refugee Agency estimates that 86% of the world's refugees are sheltered in developing countries.

The Refugee Crisis

Let's check the facts.

Are they economic migrants or refugees?

The dreadful scenes we’re seeing in the Mediterranean and across Europe are a symptom of the crisis. But make no mistake, this is a refugee crisis. According to the UN’s Refugee Agency, 84% of those arriving in Europe during 2015 came from the world’s top ten refugee producing countries.

UNHCR: Over one million sea arrivals in Europe in 2015

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Why don't refugees apply for asylum in the first country they arrive in?

The European Union’s Dublin regulation places responsibility for refugees on the first member state in which they arrive. But with the huge wave of arrivals in recent months, the system has begun to break down and has placed a huge strain too on the Schengen agreement of passport-free internal EU travel.

Where are they coming from?

A number of spiralling crises in the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Ukraine and Iraq have partly driven the crisis, but more than half of all refugees worldwide in 2014 came from just three countries: Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia. Since the civil war in Syria began in 2011, more than 4 million Syrians have sought shelter in neighbouring countries and another 7.6 million have been forced from their homes but remain displaced within Syria.

An increase in attacks by President Bashar Assad’s forces and the growth of ISIS are fueling the movement, but people are partly fleeing now because it has become clear that the conflict is unlikely to be resolved any time soon. The same is true for other modern conflicts that have been dragging on – over half the world’s refugees have been in exile for more than five years.

The Untold Story of Syria

Why are they coming to Europe?

“Middle Eastern countries are destinations for refugees, with the UN expecting the former in Jordan alone to exceed one million by the end of this year. That is a substantial burden for a country with a population of only 6.5 million and a per capita GDP of just £3,400 per year. With a population 10 times the size, per capita GDP 8 times as high, and just 170,000 refugees, the UK could certainly do more.”

“Jordan is struggling to supply all the refugees within the country with basic services like food, sanitation, and health care. Refugees are thus forced to continue onward to reach a better life, preferable in a rich country in Europe. The UN reports around 1.2 million refugees in Lebanon, with most coming from Syria. The Lebanese government is notoriously ineffectual, unable to supply its own citizens with steady electricity or, since this summer, Beirut with sufficient rubbish collection. Its ability to care for the masses of refugees, even with the assistance of the UN, is therefore limited. It is thus no wonder many seek placement, through official channels or otherwise, in Europe.”

Charles Kirchofer, PhD Candidate, Department of War Studies

“People fleeing conflict migrate to Europe because they see Europe as a place of peace and wealth compared to the violence and despair that characterise their home countries. However, such a trend should not be overemphasised. For example, in the case of Syria, the data available clearly shows that the great majority of Syrian refugees has so far resettled in neighbouring Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey and not European countries.”

Eugenio Lilli, Department of War Studies


The migrant crisis explained in seven charts.

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Is the UK taking it's fair share of refugees?

Many are under the misapprehension that the majority of refugees are trying to claim asylum in the UK and that the UK Government is doing more than it’s fair share.

This is not the case. For example, the population increase in the UK was 0.009% (~25,000 refugees). Compare this with Lebanon, which has grown by 25% (accepting ~1,067,000 refugees) since the Syrian crisis began.

Calais is full of young, single men. If they are in an unofficial camp, they must be economic migrants, right?

Wrong. Sure, there will always be a handful of people in a population of thousands who are not genuine refugees but maybe had to leave their circumstances for reasons that would not nearly fit the refugee convention (narrow) criteria for “what makes a refugee”. However there are other more explanatory reasons for why Calais is made up of so many single young men.

Firstly, single young men are often targeted by groups like ISIS, the Taliban and others as potential recruits – and so these men have to flee in order to avoid being enlisted or killed.

Second, families may often only be able to send one family member to try and secure safety so they of course will send their fittest/most able family member to seek asylum.

Thirdly, these young men understand that in the official camps, countries are selecting women, children and families for their humanitarian quota intakes. They know they have little chance of success. They will therefore resort to their next best option. If they speak English already or have family in the UK, it is logical that they would try to make it here.

Why don't they apply for asylum in France?

France has one of the lowest asylum acceptance rates in Europe, and terrible conditions for applicants. Over a third of the Calais Jungle’s residents have family in the UK; others served in the British army in Afghanistan and were forced out of their homes because of this. Many also have English as their second language, so settling in the UK is a logical step for them. And finally many people see the UK has a place of democracy and somewhere that upholds human rights.

Red tape, unemployment rates of more than 10 per cent and a ban on working for up to nine months while asylum requests are processed are also among the factors leading many refugees to avoid France.

Refugee Council: Top 20 Facts About Asylum

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Why are aid organisations doing nothing?

The French authorities won’t let them in, plain and simple. When the French closed down the Sangatte processing centre more than a decade ago, the refugees started pitching tents in bushland in the sand dunes by the Ferry Port (some say this is where the name “The Jungle” comes from).

The French have refused to officially recognise this Jungle population ever since. It was previously a much smaller population, but as a result of global events, refugee flows globally have increased, including in Calais. Large NGO’s will not enter an area without a mandate from the government, and so without French government support they are unable to assist on the ground in an unofficial refugee camp such as Calais.

What is an asylum seeker?

The definition of an asylum seeker is someone who has arrived in a country and asked for asylum. Until they receive a decision as to whether or not they are a refugee, they are known as an asylum seeker.

In the UK, this means they do not have the same rights as a refugee or a British Citizen would. For example, asylum seekers aren’t allowed to work.

Who’s who: Refugee Council

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What is the 1951 Refugee Convention?

The 1951 Geneva Convention is the main international instrument of refugee law. The Convention clearly spells out who a refugee is and the kind of legal protection, other assistance and social rights he or she should receive from the countries who have signed the document. The Convention also defines a refugee’s obligations to host governments and certain categories of people, such as war criminals, who do not qualify for refugee status.

The Convention was limited to protecting mainly European refugees in the aftermath of the Second World War, but another document – the 1967 Protocol – expanded the scope of the Convention as the problem of displacement spread around the world.

What is a refugee?

Article 1 of the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees identifies a refugee as someone who: “…owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”

Refugee or Migrant? Why it matters.

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What happens to someone when they get refugee status?

When a person is given refugee status, they have just 28 days to find accommodation and apply for mainstream benefits before they are evicted from asylum accommodation. Many refugees become homeless at this stage.

Can an asylum seeker claim benefits?

Asylum seekers are not allowed to claim benefits or work in the UK. If they are destitute and have no other means of supporting themselves, they can apply to receive asylum support. This is set at £5.28 per day. They do not jump the queue for council housing and they cannot choose where they live.

The accommodation allocated to them is not paid for by the local council. It is nearly always ‘hard to let’ properties, where other people do not want to live. It is a gross misconception that asylum seekers come to the UK to claim benefits. In fact, most know nothing about welfare benefits before they arrive and had no expectation that they would receive financial support.

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