Seeking Refuge: Why Britain?

Recent weeks have seen the ongoing migrant crisis in Calais accelerate with seemingly each night seeing more and more economic migrants attempt to storm the Channel Tunnel in hope of reaching the UK. Some merely try to hop onto the back of lorries boarding ships or trains, whereas others risk their lives attempting to jump onto the trains. These attempts have seen more than 30 migrants die since the start of 2014 with the number only likely to grow should the situation remain as it is. But why do these men and women so desperately want to reach the UK?

Many of those camped in the migrant camp known as “The Jungle” are asylum seekers who have fled their own countries to escape violence.  In a number of cases, men will pay to be smuggled out of the country and then risk their lives in the Mediterranean crossing that has been the subject of much press as of late. Following the crossing, a large amount converge on Calais, moving through Europe seemingly unnoticed. Many take such risks in the hope that the UK will offer them a better quality of life and the chance to bring their family with them once they have established themselves in society. Surely their bravery and willingness to search for a better life does not deserve the labels that have been thrown at them such as “cockroaches” by Katie Hopkins and “a swarm” by David Cameron? Such adjectives have highly negative connotations and imply that the motives of those seeking asylum in the UK are primarily negative twisting British public opinion of migrants on a broader scale. In order to fully understand the nature of the situation we must ask ourselves “Why Britain?” and consider the situation as a whole rather than the action of the migrants in Calais and the disruption caused to cross-Channel transport services.

The general consensus amongst most Britons is that economic migrants are primarily in the UK to take advantage of the perceived generous welfare system. Public health services and education are paid for along with a plethora of other amenities that would otherwise be free in other countries. In addition to this the OECD, a think tank, produced a strictness for eligibility criteria which showed that the UK were extremely low on this list relative to other European countries meaning that qualifying for certain benefits is easier in the UK than in countries such as Sweden and Austria. These economic factors together with the reputation and history the UK has for offering generous humanitarian aid means that the UK is a good place for economic migrants from war-torn regions to live in.

Despite this however, a number of social factors play a role in economic migrants coming to Britain. In 2002, asylum claims in the UK reached a peak at 84,132 in a single year which promoted the Home Office to commission a report on the issue carried out by the Migration Unit and the University of Swansea. A key finding was that the agents involved in migration directed asylum seekers toward the UK, whilst those who had a choice, had knowledge that the UK, in comparison to other European countries, was a relatively safe and tolerant destination. The report also found that a number of migrants were attracted due to their current ability to speak or desire to learn English to aid them in their future. The report explains there was little evidence that migrants were aware of UK immigration procedures or entitlements to benefits in the UK, let alone the variation in welfare systems across Europe. As a result we can conclude that very few come to Britain seeking an economic advantage and living off the generous welfare system available. In fact the reason for coming to Britain is primarily to gain a job, and whilst the financial motivation for this is strong, there is another reason that they do so. The Home Office Report states, “Many of the respondents had worked in the country of origin (and acquired skills and had careers there), and wanted to do so again when they arrived in the country where they claimed asylum. Finding a job was important because it enabled people to rebuild their lives after what had often been traumatic and disruptive experiences. It helped refugees to regain their self-respect and confidence, and to focus upon the future…”. As a result we can understand why so many migrants are attracted toward the UK when David Cameron boasts that Britain is the “jobs factory of Europe.” Compared to other countries Britain offers a great chance at gaining a job in some form hence the reason why people are willing to risk their lives to access the UK. It is an all or nothing situation.

The situation in Calais has deteriorated over recent months and with the situation only likely to get worse, there is need for significant reform to resolve this problem. Solutions such as higher fencing and increased policing will only work temporarily. As more and more migrants arrive in Calais, the determination of the collective group to get to the UK to begin a new life will only grow. Perhaps it is time for other European powerhouses such as France to become more accepting of migrants and willing to employ them rather than neglecting and isolating them from society. Not only would this provide relief for the UK and Germany, but France may also come across the great benefits of employing migrant workers and come to the realisation that racism and xenophobia will not bring any positives.

Written August 2015

Josef Marfy

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