Why Brexit Would Be Good News for Refugees - More Control Means More Compassion

22/06/2016 11:46 | Updated 22 June 2016
BULENT KILIC via Getty Images

I am a Brexiteer because we need to control our borders and welcome more refugees. This is not an anomalous statement but a consistent one. My view of control is based upon a fair and decent immigration system. A system which welcomes the skills we need without discrimination of workers from EU or non EU countries. And a system which welcomes refugees, particularly vulnerable refugees who are not able to stay in regions of conflict and need safe and legal routes for sanctuary in the UK. When there is a lack of control of immigration, as with EU migration, the capacity to properly welcome and support refugees is diminished.

So what has our response to the refugee crisis got to do with the EU referendum? In one sense the issue of freedom of movement of EU citizens is not relevant to refugees. It is an issue of economic migration and whether freedom of movement to work is properly controlled. It may well become more relevant when refugees welcomed into Germany and other EU countries gain citizenship in around 5 years time and then become eligible to move to the UK. Migration Watch has made a conservative estimate that at least 400,000 migrants could move to the UK in search of a better life. It could well be many more. I believe that it is fair for our country to determine how many EU migrants and what skills are needed through a points based system.

What is at issue on Thursday is whether the EU is fit for purpose to justify our continued membership. Some people may be willing to take the loss of control of EU migration, the loss of democratic control on laws, and loss of billions of pounds in membership fee, if the EU is responding well to the big global issue - the refugee crisis. The EU came together with noble ideals to promote peace and solidarity and support the welfare of others. The plight of refugees in Europe highlights the failure of the ideals and purpose of the EU. As the Pope said "What has happened to you Europe?" That was my sentiment when I visited Calais and Dunkirk and saw children knee deep in mud and human misery. These are the visible sad faces of 90% of migrants and refugees who are taken by people smugglers across Europe. They are caught up in what I call an "irregular migration game"; a real life version of snakes and ladders - full of smuggler vipers who prey on the most vulnerable. The collective EU response has been derisory.

Two years ago the EU pledged to relocate 160,000 refugees but only several hundred have been given sanctuary. In the meantime it is estimated that 10,000 lone children have gone missing in Europe at risk of trafficking and exploitation.

By contrast the UK last September pledged 20,000 places for vulnerable Syrian refugees and has already relocated 1,800. Further commitments have been made to relocate 3,000 Syrian children at risk of exploitation and a scheme to provide refuge for lone children in Europe.
On aid the EU does not fare much better. Only Denmark, Luxembourg, Norway and Sweden have matched the UK's international aid commitment to 0.7% of GDP. Our aid commitment of £46million to support refugees and migrants in Europe makes the UK the largest aid donor in Europe.

The EU response to the refugee crisis has lacked control and compassion. On the one hand Germany opened its doors to migrants and refugees which caused an uncontrolled surge of people and will doubtless cause a secondary migration surge from 2020. On the other hand Denmark, despite its proud heritage of providing refuge for Jews from the Nazis, has resorted to legislation which seizes assets from refugees to pay for their keep. Most countries in the EU have been in a race to the bottom to be the least welcoming place for refugees. Supporters of the EU talk about building bridges not walls but the harsh reality of the EU project for many refugees has been stuck behind a Macedonian barbed wire fence.

The refugee crisis cries out for European and international cooperation and the EU has shown itself not up to the task. Where people smugglers control the destination of vulnerable people, the international community should do so - providing safe and legal routes before they get to Europe. Britain has shown the way forward by providing the world's first children relocation scheme under the auspice of the UNHCR. Other countries in Europe and beyond should step up and provide more safe routes for vulnerable refugees, and more aid to support the vast majority of refugees who want to stay in the region.

Ensuring our response is compassionate requires us to take control. Control is not straightforward where people are fleeing poverty and drought as well as war and persecution. By controlling who we welcome primarily through safe and legal routes, we protect the refugees from smugglers and traffickers and provide a carefully managed package of support and integration across the UK. It is not fair that counties like Kent have taken the main burden of supporting refugees arriving by irregular routes.

The debate about control of immigration can be wrongly conflated with issues around refugees. However our confidence to welcome more refugees is damaged when wider immigration is uncontrolled. So I believe that leaving the EU and gaining control of EU migration will increase our confidence and capacity to support more vulnerable refugees.

Leaving the EU does not mean leaving our historic and international obligations to refugees. In fact I believe outside of the EU we can continue to take the lead in our compassionate response to refugees and provide more support in cooperation with our European and International partners. I look forward on Thursday to voting to Leave the EU for more control and more compassion for refugees.

David Burrowes is the Conservative MP for Enfield Southgate and vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Refugees