THE BLOG

Philip Hammond's Scaremongering Remarks on Calais are Ill-informed and Dangerous

11/08/2015 10:11 BST | Updated 10/08/2016 10:59 BST

Philip Hammond's recent remarks on the situation at Calais are reckless and they are shameful, but sadly they're also all too familiar. Once again, a senior minister is cranking up the rhetoric and stoking up anxiety, careless - or ignorant - of the true situation and what's needed by way of a response.

Calais is a symptom of a global refugee crisis. Most of the people at Calais are refugees. Syrians, Eritreans, Sudanese and Iraqis are among the largest groups by nationality - people from war-torn countries or where brutal regimes hold power.

The situation at Calais has become more desperate and more disruptive over recent months. But that should be no surprise. In 2014, the world's refugee population rose by nearly three million. The very small part of that global crisis which ends up at Calais has grown too.

Contrary to Mr Hammond's hyperbole, it is not the UK's or Europe's standard of living or its infrastructure which are threatened by this crisis. Look to the Middle East and we can see that Jordan is accommodating more than 650,000 Syrian refugees (in addition to two million Palestinian refugees), while a staggering one quarter of Lebanon's population is now comprised of Syrian refugees (it also hosts nearly half a million Palestinian refugees).

These countries are genuinely struggling. And poor countries like Ethiopia, Kenya and Chad are also accommodating much larger refugee populations than any European country.

Mr Hammond and his ministerial colleagues should be concerned about the impact upon countries like these in Africa and the Middle East. As conditions for refugees in these countries become more unsustainable, more unsafe and more intolerable, larger numbers are being driven to seek protection further afield. If far wealthier countries don't do more to assist - both through financial support and by accepting a more equitable share of the responsibility for accommodating refugees - that trend will only continue.

Worse, if that assistance is not forthcoming, the risks will grow that regional conflicts and instability will spread to these countries too. If so, the global refugee crisis will surely get worse - including at Calais.

What's needed is a concerted EU response to tackling the causes of refugee migration as well as alleviating the present disproportionality in the global responsibility share-out over refugees. But that can't happen if political leaders publicly deny the problem and refuse to share with others in taking responsibility. The UK has refused to participate in modest EU measures to relieve some of the pressures currently faced by Greece and Italy who've received tens of thousands of new arrivals this year alone. Last year the UK belatedly joined the international community in offering resettlement places for some of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees, but up to the end of March it had resettled a miserly 187 Syrian refugees.

The UK is not alone in failing to face up to its responsibility. But given ministers are often to be heard talking up the UK's role in providing global leadership, its failure is scandalous. And it undermines efforts by others to promote collective action to tackle the crisis.

Mr Hammond's most recent remarks may play well in some parts of the media. But they offer nothing by way of solution to the very real refugee crisis or its impact at Calais. The UK - along with some other EU countries - has been building real and metaphorical fences for years. And as Einstein apparently said, the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.

Sadly, the Foreign Secretary's ill-informed and scaremongering remarks will probably have some effect. In their wake, it will be that bit harder for other politicians to behave more responsibly, more compassionately and with due respect for our international obligation to assist those fleeing persecution and conflict.

Steve Symonds is Amnesty UK's Refugee Programme Director