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The boy in the surf


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I cried when I saw the sequence of pictures yesterday on social media. My children are the same age. Were I in the position of that boy’s parents, would I have stayed physically safe in a refugee camp but with no meaningful life ahead of us, or would I too have risked our lives in the hope of something better than mere survival, something more fulfilling, a real future for my young children?

I don’t know.

The boy was called Aylan, the BBC is reporting. His brother also drowned, and his mother. His father survives.

In the campaigning community echo chamber there has been some debate about which way to point the deckchairs. Are the people drowning at sea and suffocating in lorries “migrants” or “refugees”? It is hard to understand why effort is expended on this question but I’m going with “refugee”. Migrants choose to move. Refugees do not. Aylan was a refugee.

There is a separate issue about migration generally. It is growing in our globalised world and will continue to grow. To some commentators with a questionable understanding of the English language that is a “crisis”. It is a separate issue and should be a different debate than that about our response to the refugees from countries like Syria and Eritrea risking their lives in the hope of a better future.

What is the “solution” to the refugee crisis? David Cameron tells us that the UK accepting more refugees is not the “answer”. He is right. Neither will smashing boats, building fences or letting children drown in order to discourage others. There is no “solution” or single “answer” in that sense, as much as politicians and the public may wish that there was. We can surely do more to end the conflict in Syria, though. In the meantime all we can do is respond with humanity and compassion to the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War. We must offer safe resettlement and, above all, hope to these refugee families.

In related news, the latest UK immigration statistics were released last week. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth that net migration to the UK continues to rise. It is to that end and to appease the hostile anti-immigration, anti-refugee right wing press that the UK Government refuses to resettle more than a handful of Syrian refugees.

In the year ending June 2015 a total of 2,204 Syrians claimed asylum in the UK. 87% were granted asylum. Only 216 Syrians have been offered safe resettlement.

The statistics also show that we are still detaining Syrians here in the UK. Legally this must be in order to remove them. Why on earth would we do that? Over the last year, 834 Syrians are reported as having entered immigration detention (table dt 04 q). Why? In the same period we have enforced removal of 52 Syrians to EU Member States (table rv 03 q). The refusal rate for Syrians applying for visas remains 60%, double what it was at the start of the conflict there (table vi 02 q).

We have to do better than this. The response of the UK Government has been morally puny. At the very least please sign the official petition to trigger a parliamentary debate.


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Colin Yeo

Immigration and asylum barrister, blogger, writer and consultant at Garden Court Chambers in London and founder of the Free Movement immigration law website.