By Antony Hook MEP
Every year tens of thousands of men, women and children embark on the long, arduous journey to seek a better life in Europe. Many come from Somalia, Eritrea, and other countries devasted by war, famine, and violence.
The decision to put themselves in harm’s way is not one likely they will have taken lightly, yet still they leave their homes and families to embark on a voyage that some will never complete.
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In 2015, at the height of that summer’s migrant crisis, a photo of a dead three-year-old boy on a Mediterranean beach shocked the world. For a short time, anti-immigration rhetoric dwindled, but attitudes have since hardened once again.
This month 74 migrants landed on the Kent coast in just one day. Dover MP Charlie Elphicke has called for 24-hour aerial surveillance and a crackdown on the people smugglers, evoking the rhetoric often associated with Mexico’s border with the US.
The ongoing refugee crisis is a global phenomenon, and one to which there are no easy solutions. There is no consensus on what we as a country should do about it. Some believe refugees should not be allowed in at all. Many falsely believe that asylum seekers are legally obliged to seek asylum in the first country they step foot in (they aren’t). Others would happily see the UK take in more people as we are an affluent country.
If Brexit happens, our situation will become even more difficult. Passengers attempting to enter the UK via the port of Dover must currently pass through UK border control which is situated in Calais. If the Le Touquet agreement is torn up post Brexit, that border will likely be moved onto British soil. Once migrants set foot in our country it becomes much harder to send them away.
Under the Dublin Regulation EU member states are required to take a joint responsibility in dealing with refugees. It’s pretty clear that should we proceed with a hard Brexit, we’re not going to get much help from our European neighbours in managing the huge numbers of people already arriving on our shores.
The problem is bigger than one country. Pulling up the drawbridge and creating ‘fortress Britain’ isn’t going to make the slightest bit of difference, in fact it will almost certainly make things worse. Any solution will require international cooperation. This week I head to Strasbourg where I will be asking questions in parliament about what can be done to improve the situation.
If we want to fix things, we must work with our European allies to tackle the issue of failed and failing states such as Somalia and Libya which provide fertile ground for the people traffickers. Barriers and barbed wire alone can’t solve the problem. In the search for answers it seems as though the EU is the place to find them.