Decades from now historians will study and opine on the current era in which we exist. Human societal development has reached a watershed moment in its evolution: we, in the UK, have fought for emancipation from serfdom; universal suffrage; the trade union movement; freedom of speech. All wondrous achievements for the betterment of individual lives. But this evolution has recently experienced a tumultuous, and insidious, change in trajectory. With the advent of 24-hour news media, the world wide web, digital technology, paradigm-shifting scientific discoveries, we have never before been exposed to such an abundance of knowledge.
We have unprecedented access to the public sphere following the radical ‘Big Bang’ of social media and online academic content and digitised archives of material. But, alas, it has not ushered in an apotheosis of high learning, nor has it engendered a population of well-informed and engaged individuals. No, civilisation has reached the era of ‘Freedom of Ignorance’, and the multitude are embracing it. In a climate of intellectual and cultural ferment, ignorance is now a choice not an inherent quality. But people are willfully making that choice, and nowhere is it more manifest than in the debate on, and public attitude toward, the Refugee Crisis in Europe.
The problem appears, to me, to be that most only seek information from one or two media outlets. Usually one that is already sympathetic to the individual’s societal values and world view. With regard to the refugee crisis the opinions of those on the negative side of the discourse are usually formed via the following formula:
- Person makes a random observation regarding the refugees (e.g. Crossing multiple EU borders to claim asylum in a particular country or refugees’ ownership of a Smart phone)
- They make assumptions that are based on conceived notions that have been spoon fed to them by the right wing press, and their own pre-existing prejudices, in order to provide an explanation for the observation.
- Their ‘conclusion’ is reinforced and, in their eyes, confirmed by demagogic, right wing fringe groups and certain sections of the political class and commentariat, which, for them, provides ‘evidence’ of its veracity.
Such people do not venture to expose themselves to multiple news and media sources that offer diverse perspectives. They are even less inclined to seek out academic research or data supplied by government departments, NGOs and multilateral organisations. Inevitably, they conflate shared attitudes and prejudices, held alongside their chosen news source, with factual truth and evidence.
Furthermore, they will not engage with, or sometimes even acknowledge, new information that utterly picks apart their assumptions and understanding. The usual response tactic is to move on to another grievance, again baseless and following the above formula, resort to ‘whataboutery’, or to just move the goalposts of their initial objection.
I will give one example to illustrate what I mean by the latter. I had a discussion with an individual fitting the ‘freedom of ignorance’ model. He initially stated that he was against granting asylum since refugees would steal ordinary jobs from ordinary Britons. I began by stating that refugees have no right to work while their applications are under review. I also relayed the point that most refugees who make it out of Syria are, what we would term, ‘middle class’: educated and, or, skilled.
For example, one of the few refugees who have already settled in the UK was profiled by the BBC. The interviewer discovered that this gentleman had worked as a radiographer for eight years, while his wife worked for a bank before they left Syria. I commented that, should they receive asylum in the UK, these refugees can become a boon to the national economy, and the labour market, as they possess skills we require. His retort was to suddenly show deep concern for the future of the Syrian people, and their country, by stating that ‘we shouldn’t take their best and brightest’, and suggested they should be ‘sent back to Syria to help rebuild their country’. Curious enough, I am sure you would agree.
Since, I consistently come up against the same concerns, regarding the refugee crisis, from those who choose the ignorant ‘blue pill’ over the enlightened ‘red pill’, I have decided to redress the most common misconceptions and grievances, below.
1. “We have thousands of homeless in Britain and nearly 1 million using food banks, let’s sort our own house first.”
I find this response incredibly infuriating for its brazen insincerity. Let’s put aside the fact that these are some of the same people expressing disdain for the poor and vulnerable who have their meagre income subsidised by increasingly shrinking benefits. But that they are reaching into the fetid bog of demagogy, and invoking the misery heaped on UK citizens as a method to press forth their own prejudices, against refugees and foreigners, is unreservedly egregious.
I’ll wager that most who suddenly show solicitude toward the benefit claimants, the disabled, the homeless have never expressed heartfelt concern for these groups in the past, and do nothing to help ease their suffering.
Additionally, The domestic scene and the humanitarian crisis on the Continent are two wholly separate issues than can be tackled concurrently.
But then, this is usually the section of society that trumpets that odious phrase: “charity begins at home” as if helping your poor and vulnerable compatriots and assisting those overseas are mutually exclusive.
Listen, we are always going to have grievances toward the government on domestic matters, there are always going to be vulnerable citizens who are getting short shrift. Under these conditions you can use the ”don’t help others until we have helped our own” ‘argument’, in perpetuity, as a reason not to have any active engagement in overseas humanitarian relief.
2. “Saudi Arabia, and the other Gulf States, are all rich countries and they are doing nothing to help. Why should we?”
This particular objection is underpinned by the incorrect assumption that all Syrians are Muslims and, therefore, it is incumbent on Islamic countries to offer sanctuary. However, 10% of the population in the Syrian Arab Republic are Christians; this figure equates to approximately 2.3m people. With the presence of ISIS and al-Nusra in Syria, the nation’s Christian population are especially vulnerable to persecution and violence – reports of genocide committed against the nation’s Christian population have surfaced on more than one occasion – and most have fled the country. I doubt they would feel particularly safe in Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar. In fact, the Middle East region has become increasingly unsafe and inhospitable for the region’s Christian minority, even before the advent of ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Let’s go further into considering the option of fleeing to Saudi Arabia from a refugee’s (Christian or Muslim) perspective. Why would a family, or individual, fleeing war, terror and persecution wish to seek sanctuary under an autocratic, sometimes brutal, State sponsor of Islamist terrorism? A nation that abuses its Kenyan and Asian migrant workers – circumstances that are not unique to Saudi Arabia, but endemic among other nations in the Gulf region. It doesn’t give the impression of a welcoming haven for refugees, and Syrians know it.
Furthermore, with Jordan now closed to new Syrian refugees, the only feasible land route to the Gulf States is through…Iraq. A nation afflicted by its own nasty war, and the destructive presence of ISIS, cannot offer safe transit through to Saudi Arabia. The Syrians who made it to Iraq before the conflict with ISIS emerged are now trapped in Iraqi Kurdistan.
From the outbreak of civil war, in 2011, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have contributed more to the International Red Cross (which is very much THE charity operating in the region and supporting Syrian refugees) than both France and Italy, combined. These two European economies are roughly double the size of the Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE and Saudi Arabia, collectively. Until recently, Saudi Arabia was the largest donor to foreign, on a per capita basis, in the entire world, though this was predominantly to Muslim countries.
The UAE currently donates the most in foreign aid as a proportion of its GDP (1.17%). The UAE delivers aid through through many entities, but 80% of its foreign aid spending is through the state and this alone equates to over $4bn. 2015 is the second year running that the UAE has been at the top of the ‘foreign aid’ list. The reason you are not likely to see these figures is because the UAE, and most Gulf states, are not members of the DAC (Development Assistance Committee). A 28-member forum to discuss issues surrounding foreign and development. Most publications of international ODA (Overseas Development Assistance) includes only those countries who are members of DAC.
In 2013, Qatar donated over £500m in foreign aid. The country focuses on the Arab world and Syria has received a huge chunk of this funding (over £400m in 2013). The country is committed to investing in humanitarian concerns throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
As well as the $900m pledged by Gulf nations, in 2013, to the Syrian cause (a pledge that has been surpassed). The Gulf countries also donate through their membership of OPEC, as the OPEC Fund for International Development has become a significant donor to the Red Cross in the past two years. A comprehensive 2014 report on development aid provided by the UAE can be found here.
Wealthy Arabs also account for the sizeable private donations received by the IRC. Prince bin-Talal of Saudi Arabia has committed his $32bn fortune to charity over the course of several years. It is important to remember that one of the five pillars of Islam is ‘alms giving’: charity is a facet that underpins expression of the Islamic faith, much like it is in Christianity.
The President of the UAE, Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyanm, has donated $460m, throughout his life, to humanitarian concerns from his own personal wealth. It is no surprise that the government of UAE is significantly oriented toward foreign aid and development.
This next figure may also surprise many: There are 100,000 Syrians currently living in UAE. That’s right. However, they do not show up as refugees living in the UAE on any UN agency report. This is because these Syrians have been given FULL residency visas and so do not have ‘refugee’ or ‘asylum’ status.
The overwhelming fact is that, despite the protestations of the West and accusations of inaction and callousness, Arab leaders are sympathetic to the dire situation Syrians find themselves, and the news coverage is unending. They have further proven their concern for Syrian civilians by donating huge amounts of funding to humanitarian aid. Kuwait is the third-largest donor ($300m) to the UN’s Syria Response Fund, for example. In 2015, so far, Kuwait has donated over $100m, which is second most after the US, to UNHCR.
Ordinary citizens in Gulf nations have also expressed opinions that favour opening the door for more Syrian refugees (the Arabic hashtag “Arab Conscience” has been trending on social media). Outrage against the oil-rich Arab nations conjured up by some western governments, and media outlets, is an attempt to deflect attention away from its own regressive policy regarding Syria.
A cartoonist in the Gulf criticises the the unwillingness of many Arab nations to take in refugees. (the original Arabic speech bubble has been altered to a basic English translation).
3. “Why are they travelling through multiple safe EU countries to get to a particular country?”
A common reason is that many refugees have family who reside in Europe. Relatives who have likely helped finance their escape from Syria and the Middle East. Naturally, a refugee would be anxious to be reunited with a relative, sometimes an entire family, whom they have not seen for years and who can offer a smooth transition for them in a nation, with their local knowledge and independence. I am sure if anyone had the opportunity to seek asylum in a country where they will be free from fear and uncertainty due to the presence of a friend or family member, would do all they can to make it to that country.
Another common motive is language and it is for the reasons outlined above. Having knowledge of your prospective host country’s language will be immeasurably beneficial when attempting to settle your family and build a life, either temporarily or permanently. This consideration is the fundamental rationale as to why the UK attracts Eritreans and Syrians more than any other nationality that is listed by the UN as ‘persons of concern’. In Eritrea, English is an official language (older generation Eritreans speak some Italian, a cultural characteristic of its colonial past, which is why Italy also receives a proportion of Eritreans), and because many of the Syrian refugees are highly educated, a significant number of them also speak English.
A more complicated explanation takes account of previous attempts to claim asylum in European countries. The Balkan countries and those of Central Europe, invariably, have hostile attitudes toward the refugees: Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia express particular opposition to any influx of asylum seekers and have already opposed the EU’s attempts to introduce a refugee quota system. Refugees are attuned to this hostility as soon as they arrive at the borders of certain countries. Their treatment by the authorities and the local population are evidence enough of how much they are not welcome and that it might be prudent to move on.
Nations such as Hungary also have a remarkably high propensity to reject asylum applications – usually for political reasons rather than on the merit of the applicant. From a total number of 5,445 decisions made by the Hungarian government, in 2014, on granting asylum, 4,935 were rejected. That’s less than a 10% approval rate: an astounding proportion. Of those 510 applications that were granted, less than half were given full refugee status.
The statistical graphic, below, shows a similarly bleak story for asylum applicants in Poland, Luxembourg, Belgium, and, at a shocking rate, France. The UK rejected over 60% of applications in which it made a decision. This figure had been even higher in previous years before the unfair and controversial Detained Fast Track System of dealing with asylum applications was scrapped after the government’s appeal failed in the courts. Those who have their applications rejected face deportation. It, therefore, should come as no surprise that we are seeing many refugees eager to cross the northern frontiers of countries like Hungary in order to reach Austria and Germany – countries that, in 2015, have radically changed their policy toward refugees. Why take all those risks and bankrupt yourself only to be turned away at the first port of entry?
4. “99% are economic migrants who want to come to England and claim benefits”.
This fallacious notion has found credence even among senior politicians in Europe. Viktor Orban, the Prime Minister of Hungary, believes that the “overwhelming majority” are not refugees at all, but are migrants looking for a better life. While the Slovak Prime Minister summons up the arbitrary figure of 95% to describe the volume of economic migrants among those who are entering Europe.
Anyone would think that there has not been a devastating civil war raging in Syria for 4 and a half years; that war has not been ongoing in the Darfur region of Sudan for over 12 years: a war that has persecution and torture of black Sudanese, by the Arab government in Khartoum, as a central theme (incidentally, the President of Sudan, Omar Bashir is wanted by the ICC for war crimes and crimes against humanity); that their is not repression, torture, and indefinite terms of conscripted national service meted out by the regime in Eritrea; a the war in Iraq, and persistent violence and instability in Afghanistan.
The vast majority of those seeking asylum in Europe come from seven countries whose nationals are all recognised by UNHCR as ‘persons of concern’. They are also countries whereby their citizens achieve higher than 50% success rates in asylum applications to Europe, so their status is, more often than not, genuine.
The people we see making their way to EU countries are predominantly from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea and Sudan. (40% are from Syria, alone). Eritreans and Syrians are two of the top three nationalities who are attempting to claim asylum in Britain. But yet their number is only in the low thousands, not the tens of thousands that we see making applications in Italy, Greece, France, Germany and Sweden.
Fig 2. Where Asylum Seekers to the UK originate from
There are 56 million people in the world who have been forcibly displaced and the UK is home to less than 0.5% of them. Of the 14m who are refugees (i.e. those who are not internally displaced within their own country) the UK is still home to less than 1%. But this is not just a comment on how unwilling the UK government has been to accept asylum seekers. What you will also notice, in the voluminous available data online, is that the vast majority of refugees do not wish to claim asylum here and this is a trend that is not unique to Syrians. For example, of the nearly half a million who have fled violence in DR Congo over the course of its bloody civil war, just 118 applied for asylum in Britain, up to the year 2011.
In 2014, 1.66m asylum applications were made worldwide (an record high). These were the top 3 recipients:
- Russian Federation (274,000)
- Germany (173,000)
- USA (121,000)
The UK, on the other hand, received a total of 32,000 applications, fewer than Italy, France, Hungary and Sweden. Therefore, the number of asylum applications made to Britain, equates to just 2% of all asylum applications made in 2014. Asylum applications to Britain in 2015 – figures from January to June – has been less than 10,000: a figure that is fewer than in both Belgium and Austria (to add to the list of countries above).
Putting the figures in perspective for the UK should put a harness on the scaremongering of demagogues like UKIP, as well as the fear-inducing publications of certain sections of the commentariat: such as the Daily Mail’s, consultant editor, Andrew Pierce and, more recently, Peter Hitchens. I expect certain members of the right wing press to engage in unscrupulous and baseless sensationalism, but, to be honest, I am disappointed in Mr Hitchens’ article. A man who, whether I agree with his position on a particular issue or not, is usually impeccably well-informed, rigorous in his research, and a fine practitioner of level-headed rhetoric. His article can be found here.
For Mr Hitchens to say there will be “a demographic revolution” to detrimental consequences, in Britain, is ludicrous. For reasons already delineated above. But to even make that case for any country in Northern Europe would be equally wide of the mark. Single countries in Asia accommodate many more Syrian or Afghan refugees than the entire continent of Europe: Turkey (in its Asian territory) and Pakistan have, by far, the largest refugee populations, in absolute terms (1.9m and 1.5m, respectively). Lebanon and Jordan host the most refugees relative to the size of their populations.
In Lebanon more than 1 in 4 is a refugee, and the Za’atari camp in Jordan is now the country’s fourth largest city. Iran, Ethiopia, Uganda, China, Chad and Kenya all have received more refugees (this is total refugees not just Syrians, of course), than the entire Continent of Europe. Almost 60% of the world’s refugees (who are not IDPs) survive inside the countries mentioned above. Of those countries only Pakistan, Lebanon and Jordan can be said have considerable concerns over increasing instability caused by the volume of refugees, and the burden on economy and resources – Jordan, for example, is experiencing severe water shortages.
For Jordan and Lebanon, the deteriorating situation is more to do with the responsibility it has taken on, given its relative size and native population, rather than the presence of refugees being an inherent catalyst engendering instability and economic fragility. These nations, also, do not enjoy the sophisticated infrastructure; capacity for rapid logistical support; and coordination of multiple governmental institutions and non-governmental organisations in the effort to house, clothe, feed, integrate and provide health care to refugees that western nations can call upon. Jordan and Lebanon also do not have the robust and wealthy economies that most members of the G20 possess.
On the final point of refugees wishing only to claim benefits in England, a clear and succinct response is all that is needed to rubbish that claim.
First of all, 50% of all Syrian refugees are under 18 (an unprecedented proportion of a refugee population). Of those who are 18-59, most are educated and/or skilled and have worked throughout their lives. The idea that they would make the long, perilous journey, where they are exploited by people traffickers and abused by unsympathetic countries and their populations, only to give up their autonomy and self worth so that they can sit on a sofa in Clacton all day and watch Jeremy Kyle, is absurd. Not to mention the fact that these human beings come from a land where if you don’t work, you don’t eat. The presence of social security in their homeland is minimal if not non-existent. The very idea that they would have any concept of a Welfare State, let alone knowledge of how to bilk our, is equally worthy of haughty derision.
The UK is not the ‘Land of Milk and Honey’ which citizens of the land believe it be for foreigners. After all, don’t we have ‘our own’ sick, homeless, and vulnerable ‘to sort out first’ before we think about taking in refugees?
If that explanation doesn’t work for you, there’s always this young lad’s wise words:
5. “But they have Smart phones and nice clothes, they can’t be that poor and needy”
Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realise fleeing war and persecution was solely the inalienable right of the impoverished and those who are deficient in handheld technology. The ownership of this relatively cheap piece of equipment is not the exclusive domain of the developed world. Syria was a lower middle income country before the outbreak of war. Therefore, to put it crudely, it was not ‘poor’ in the traditional sense. There were 87 phones per 100 people in country in 2014. But this is beside the point.
The majority of adults who are able to leave Syria are educated and skilled (like the radiographer and bank employee mentioned at the beginning of this blog). It is their ‘middle class’ status that has allowed them to finance their escape from Syria and, subsequently, the leave the deplorable conditions of the refugee camps in neighbouring countries.
By the time they have made it to Europe, they are virtually penniless as their savings have been handed over to unscrupulous degenerates who offer them a place on a dinghy in which to make the daunting voyage across a hazardous Mediterranean sea. Those lower on the socioeconomic scale, who more accurately represent our media-fuelled notions of what a poor foreigner looks like, are the 7.5m who remain internally displaced within the utter hell of civil war. Poor Syrians who do not have the capital, or the familial contacts in Europe, to call upon for help in escaping the catastrophe tearing apart their homeland.
6. “Why don’t they stay in the camps in Turkey, Jordan or Lebanon where they are already safe?”
This is what many have been doing for a long time. It’s why it has taken over four years of war before the refugee crisis has manifested itself north of Greece. The current refugees who are trekking along the motorways and country roads of Europe have not arrived fresh from Syria. They are people who have come to the realisation the there will not be a speedy resolution to the civil war in the short or even medium-term future and have decided to move on from the camps. Fully intending to return as soon as a relatively normal state of affairs returns to Syria, they intially remained in their area of displacement – as 86% of all displaced people in the world do – so that they could make their way back to their homes swiftly in order to rebuild their shattered lives.
However, the mood has changed in the camps of Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Not just because there appears no end in sight to the conflict, but because conditions within the camps are deteriorating rapidly. Many have been operating for nearly five years and the resources are under immense strain more than ever. With growing instability and economic fragility creeping further every week, for all three countries, their capacity, and willingness, to be generous is in decline. Lebanon is threatened by a renewed outbreak of civil war: with humanitarian aid beginning to dwindle, resentments toward the refugees from the country’s natives have seen social tensions arising in a nation where over 1 in 4 is a refugee.
The refugees, themselves, are plunging further into poverty and beginning to suffer from malnutrition and ill-health now that rations are depleted and medical supplies are becoming scarce. There are also family concerns over their children’s educations. For those who are not in school in Lebanon, Turkey or Jordan, the ongoing period in which they are out of education is going to have detrimental consequences on their future job opportunities and livelihoods. The refugees are looking to alternative destinations.
In Jordan the situation is even worse. Like Lebanon it has closed its borders to more refugees as it faces uncertain times regarding its internal security and its economy. The country is experiencing severe water shortages, and drops in aid support from the international community. Some refugees here are descending into abject poverty and forced to leave the camps and enter the surrounding urban areas to live in abandoned or dilapidated buildings with no running water or sanitation. Two-third of refugees are estimated to be living below the poverty line. One third of refugee children are not enrolled in school in Jordan.
For those who have been forced to relocate into the surrounding urban areas, half of the households have no heating and many have unreliable electricity supplies and no functioning toilet (which is particularly a problem for young girls and women). It was recently reported that UNHCR had been dealt a 10% funding blow, which they warned would have irreversible consequences for refugees in their camps. Clinics are closing, rations are being cut and people are not receiving adequate caloric intake to remain nourished and stave off infection and disease. The camps are at breaking point and more and more Syrians are fleeing to the cities. But recently Europe has become the answer for many refugees.
7. “But where are all the women and children, especially in Calais, clearly the refugees are men looking for work?
Given the uncertainty surrounding a long journey to a new continent travelling along unfamiliar territory, it is only reasonable that many of the men, who have wives and families, take this risk on their own and try to establish asylum in a safe country before making arrangements for their spouse and family to join him. It also reduces the cost of transit to Europe and precludes the anxiety over struggling to provide food and water for your children. At least at the camps you know they well be safer, better fed and have limited access to medical care.
The high number of young men, particularly in Calais’ ‘Jungle’ camp, is evidence of refugees fleeing conscription in the brutal Eritrea. In the case of Syrians, parents encourage their young adult sons to flee the country in order to avoid being coerced to fight for the regime or the rebels, and to evade capture and execution by ISIS or the Al-Nusra Front. Others, who have already be forced to fight for pro-Assad forces, have deserted and sought refuge outside Syria. After fighting for so long they have become disconnected from their families and make the journey alone not even knowing the fate of their loved ones.
Fig.3 Young Syrian men break through a fence in Turkey to escape ISIS
However, it is important to remember that the demographic breakdown of refugees camped in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey is split almost right down the middle in terms of gender. 50.5% of refugees, in the Middle East and North Africa region (where 95% of Syria’s refugees live), are female and 52%, overall, are under 18. So there are not more adult males among the 4 million refugees. It is just that many men have made the reasonable decision not to expose their wives and children to any additional or unnecessary risk.
Fig.3 How Syrian refugees are dispersed in the Middle East and North Africa Region (where 95% of the refugees currently live)
8. “They will steal ordinary jobs from ordinary people; they’ll be given council housing ahead of deserving British people, they will put on burden on public services; the country is full”
The Refugee Council website is one of the best places to bury these kinds of fears and misapprehensions. To begin with, refugees, while their application is under consideration, are forbidden from engaging in employment and are forced to live off paltry State support, which is barely equal to the value of the JSA benefit payment. Though this will hopefully no longer be the case as George Osborne announced plans to redirect a portion of the foreign aid budget toward support refugees living in the UK. But this does not mean that asylum seekers will be given an easy life once they reach the UK. Women and children are particularly at risk from violence and are likely to sink into poverty and destitution without adequate State or local authority support. With the existing, but wholly unnecessary, council budget cuts, services and support networks for refugees will stripped to the bone.
Once their application is granted they are free to seek employment and access public services. But, unlike the myth that the right wing demagogues like to circulate, refugees do not ‘jump the queue’ for social housing, they also have no say in where they live. Quite often they are housed in ‘hard to let’ properties in run down, often dangerous, urban areas that already experience social friction. Again, this places asylum seekers in a vulnerable environment. Hopefully, given the hot topic that the refugee crisis has become, the government will do a volte face on how it currently serves the nation’s asylum seekers and improve their prospects and quality of life without alienating its native population. A delicate balancing act but one that can be achieved with the necessary will and conviction of our government.
Syrians granted asylum will also not be taking away ordinary jobs from those unskilled Britons who rely on menial, minimum wage work to scratch out a living.
*This reality being another policy failing of the government, but, unfortunately, does not allow me to critique at length as it does not fall within the scope of this piece.*
As mentioned above, the adult Syrians are educated and skilled and offer great value to the labour market and the economy. The UK’s health service currently employs 1200 doctors with asylum status. It is proven to be more cost-effective to retrain a foreign medical profession, so that they can be absorbed into the NHS (£25,000), than to train UK national from day 1 of medical school (£250,000). Scotland is already considering plans to fill vacancies in medical roles with Syrian refugees who are trained in medicine.
“But shouldn’t we train and spend tax payer’s money our own people?”. Quite right, we should focus on equipping young Britons with the skills the country needs, but this does not mean we cannot utilise the skills and knowledge of educated Syrians for the mutual benefit of the refugee and the national economy. The NHS is already wholly dependent on immigrant personnel to keep the monolithic health care machine running. Syrian medical professionals would merely be supplemental to our native and legal migrant stock.
I talk about it being a mutually beneficial relationship between refugee and the labour market. The country increases output with its fresh intake of skills and education, this augments public service delivery, productivity, wealth creation and public satisfaction, while refugees are able to continue plying their trade, obtaining more skills, training and experience in a technologically-advanced and developed country. he or she restores their self worth and is able to be self-sufficient in providing for his or her family. The new skills and experiences will be invaluable to the rebuilding effort in a post-conflict Syria, should they wish to return, and hopefully the UK can do all it can to facilitate a smooth repatriation process.
But all of the above depends on just which refugees we are planning to take. The government is suggesting that it will take the most vulnerable from UNHCR refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. The likely beneficiaries will be women and children. Although it is welcome news, despite the derisory number of refugees we intend to settle, I fear that cherry picking predominantly women and children will perpetuate the dire circumstances that many female and child asylum seekers, currently in the UK, already suffer (see above). For there to be tangible integration and adequate quality of life for the Syrians arriving in the UK, families need to be kept together and an appreciable number of refugee men need to be included in the 20,000. The key to success is to bring about the kind of circumstances outlined above, which draw upon ‘self worth’ and ‘independence’ through employment as pivotal drivers for a successful and happy transition to UK society. Ghettoising women and children in unwanted houses that are located in undesirable, and often intimidating, areas is inviting social tension and division.
An article in The Independent by a professor of Migration research at UCL attempts to answer some of the common objections relating to immigration, specifically, but his findings are relevant to the current refugee situation. Although he is ambivalent and, somewhat, non-committal, on either side of the argument, vis-a-vis whether Britain is “full”. What is clear is that it is a question that needs to be considered at the local and regional level. Different counties and areas of the UK have varying capacities to take in a higher population and still sustain current living standards for the persons already living there.
On the topic of immigration, in our case asylum, affecting joblessness, he quite categorical in stating that a sudden spike in population often has no bearing on unemployment rates. When a quarter of a million Poles entered the UK in 20o4 and 2005, Professor Salt confirms that unemployment actually fell and that job vacancy adverts shows a small increase.
Today, we are talking about just 20,000 people. The size of a modest university’s student body; a number that doesn’t even equate to one person in every town in the UK. The belief that such a small flow of people, over five years I might add, will register any negative impact on British society is quite comical. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that the reverse is true even when there is a large intake of refugees. One reason is their impact often leads to wealth and job creation as refugees are more likely to set up small businesses. Many refugees have become creative geniuses involved in the digital revolution. Steve Jobs of Apple, who was the son of a Syrian refugee, Sergey Brin of Google, and Jerry Yang of Yahoo, are all examples of refugees who have contributed greatly to their adoptive societies.
If you have stayed with me until this point, then I salute your effort. This is a huge piece of writing to dedicate in which to donate any significant amount of time, especially as I am not an expert authority on the matter. But I hope you have found it enlightening.
As a reward here’s a baby gorilla