THE BLOG

Allow More Refugees Into the UK: We Have More in Common Than We Think

07/09/2015 11:00 BST | Updated 06/09/2016 10:59 BST

The arguments against allowing more refugees into the UK fall apart when given a closer look. And we have more in common with refugees than we think.

Some people say that accepting more refugees into the UK would harm the economy - there would be no jobs left for British people. But many refugees and other migrants start their own businesses, creating jobs. 1 in 7 UK companies were set up by migrants. Successful refugee businessmen in Britain include the co-founder of Marks and Spencer, Michael Marks, and Montague Burton, who opened a factory employing 10,000 people and offered his employees pensions and healthcare schemes before the welfare state was even created.

You might think that providing sanctuary for more refugees in the UK would put too much strain on our public services. But between 2001-2011, immigrants from both within and outside of Europe have contributed more in taxes to the UK than they have received in benefits. This means that accepting refugees may increase the amount of money we get in tax, helping us to improve public services.

The numbers of refugees are not as high as many think. So far this year, about 270,000 refugees have reached Europe by sea. That is only one for every 1,900 Europeans, and many will have their applications to stay refused. If we take in 10,000 refugees, that is still only 10 families for each town.

Some say that refugees are travelling for economic reasons and not really fleeing war or abuse. But the largest group of refugees are Syrians. War and abuse in Syria is very well documented: the Syrian government and extremist groups including ISIS are committing widespread abuses such as torture and attacks on civilians.

Some ask why refugees can't go to Middle Eastern countries instead of Europe. But they are: Turkey is hosting 1.9 million refugees, and Lebanon 1.1 million. This is far more than the 18,000 that the EU has suggested European countries take.

Turkey and Lebanon are finding it hard to cope with the cost of accommodating such large numbers of refugees. Turkey's EU affairs minister has said that the country has reached its 'total capacity' for refugees, while a UN official described Lebanon as at risk of crumbling as a state due to the crisis.

You might also ask why refugees can't apply to stay in the first European country they reach, instead of coming to the UK. But most refugees in Europe do not come to the UK, which gets only 4% of asylum applications made in the EU - and most of these are rejected.

And finally, there's the argument that a more welcoming refugee policy would simply encourage more people to brave the life-threatening journey across the sea to Europe. But we need to remember that by definition, refugees aren't making a choice to flee their home: they are forced to do so by war and persecution. People will still make risky boat journeys, they'll just go to other places - possibly across more dangerous seas than the Mediterranean. According to people working in the refugee sector, this is precisely the impact of Australia's policy of turning back refugee boats.

But most importantly: we are all refugees, in a way. Not just because some of us might have come to this country after fleeing war or abuse, or may be the children or grandchildren of those who did.

But because there are many among us who have risked a great deal to escape situations in which we were being abused, and our humanity diminished. We may have escaped an abusive relationship, or a job in which we were being mistreated. Such experiences give us something in common with people in refugee camps in Syria or Calais.

And we are all vulnerable to disaster that would turn our lives upside down and leave us desperately in need of help. It could be something like losing our job or home; we are not so far away from those who are now asking for our help.

We have a lot in common with refugees. Who among us wouldn't flee if faced with war and persecution, and try to start a new life in a safe country which provides opportunities to flourish? Our common humanity both obliges us to make room for refugees, and gives us a way to understand them.