Cameron vs grass roots organizations – UK’s role in the European Refugee Crisis

Charities and grass root organizations may be beating the government at dealing with the European refugee crisis. We are seeing the emergence of many grass root organizations taking the refugee crisis into their own hands to speed up the integration of the many Syrian refugees wishing to enter Europe. They are fighting to get British Prime Minister, David Cameron, and the government to do more.

Today, it seems as if the charities are the ones pulling all the weight, explains history professor at Richmond University, Mr. Neil Mackie. This is a new trend that has not been present during past waves of migration. The government is usually at the forefront of a crisis like this one.

One can ask if the government and the grass root organizations are simply approaching the crisis in two different ways.

The government aims to resettle 20.000 Syrian refugees over the next five years, using the Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement (VPR) Programme. By Christmas last year, only the first 1.000 refugees were resettled in the United Kingdom (UK). In contrast, Germany gave asylum to 47.555 applicants, Sweden following in second with 33.025 approved applications already by the end of 2014, states Eurostat.

“Today’s pledge of more than £2.3bn in UK aid sets the standard for the international community – more money is needed to tackle this crisis and it is needed now (…) And we can provide a sense of hope needed to stop people thinking they have no option but to risk their lives on a dangerous journey to Europe,” says the British Prime Minister, David Cameron at The Supporting Syria and the Region conference on February 4th.

The UK, United Nation, Germany, Kuwait and Norway held the conference and raised more than 11 billion USD in pledges 5.8 billion for 2016 and 5.4 billion for 2017 – 2020, while the NGOs and charity organizations are determined to hold Cameron accountable to his promise. They are trying to put pressure on the government to do more for the refugees that have already made the long journey to Europe, the journey that cost more than 3.770 migrants their lives in 2015, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Cameron seems more eager to sending resources directly to Syria rather than helping to settle the many refugees that have already crossed the European border.

On April 28, Citizens UK is to host a Mayoral Copperbox, creating a platform for citizens to question the progress of the VPR and to discuss London’s role in the crisis. “If London doesn’t commit to taking the lead on integrating the refugees, then the rest of the country won’t follow,” says volunteer for Citizens UK, Liz Scruton.

Citizens UK is attempting to get all 12 boroughs of London to take responsibility of their pledge to find housing for the refugees with approved asylum and especially help the high numbers of refugees stuck in French Calais, also known as the Jungle, even though they have relatives that have already been given asylum in the UK.

“We are going to Calais on March fourth to do DNA tests on the refugees with families in the UK already, in order to prove that they should be allowed into the UK”, says Scruton and continues “Currently, there are at least 50 children in Calais that are being refused entrance into the UK, although they have the right to live there.”

But the UK is far from the most affected country in Europe. The European Union’s (EU) ‘first country’ rule of thumb forces refugees to seek asylum in the first European country they enter, thus putting a lot of pressure on countries situated on the EU border. This makes Hungary, Greece, and Italy some of the countries most affected by the refugees entering the EU, as they are on the border.

Volunteer for Jus Vitae, Carolina Cirillo, witnessed the chaos in Sicily first hand this summer as economic migrants arrived at shore from Africa to seek refuge. Locals in Palermo seem just as split as the UK, one-half wants to help as many as possible whilst the other half are afraid the refugees will take up too much space and resources, she explains.

Members of the EU agreed in September 2015, to relocate 160.000 refugees EU-wide to relieve some of the pressure on the heavily affected countries on the border. Germany and France are at the forefront of this agreement allocating space for up to 45.000 refugees together. The UK and Cameron opted out on taking part in this agreement.

The UK is to receive 55 asylum applications annually per 100.000 of the local population, whereas Sweden currently received 1.667 per 100.000 and the EU average is 255. So statistically speaking, the UK clearly isn’t taking the lead on the issue, which it maybe should.

However, should the ‘first country’ rule be abolished, the UK may risk receiving more refugees seeking asylum as countries such as the UK and Germany may be more attractive to economic refugees; although, this will relieve some pressure on the less stable countries, such as Greece.

We talk about the biggest refugee crisis seen in Europe, yet history professor Neil Mackie is not convinced when comparing the numbers to past migration waves. “It may be the biggest perceived crisis, which set the political agenda,” he says.

And with EU referendum hovering the UK, it is very difficult to predict how the refugee crisis will be dealt with as an exit of the EU may isolate the UK from the issue, leaving Europe mainland to have to deal with the issue.

Louise Kofoed-Dam

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Louise Frederikke Kofoed-Dam is TheModCon's Chief Marketing Officer and a Photojournalist. Louise is originally from Denmark, but has also lived a few years in France. She recently graduated from Richmond, The American University in London with a BA in International Journalism and Media.