Britain Has Created Millions of Refugees and It Must Face Its Responsibilities

Published December 1st, 2021 - 11:47 GMT
Britain Has Created Millions of Refugees and It Must Face Its Responsibilities
Iraqi refugees, most of them vulnerable people, protest in front of the European Union offices in Athens on October 20, 2020 to demand improvement of the conditions for Iraqi refugees in the country. Iraqis demand asylum, settling a status for people with special needs and inclusion in EU resettlement program. / AFP / Louisa GOULIAMAKI

On 24 November, Mohammed Shekha clung to the side of a flimsy boat in the waters between France and the United Kingdom while around him at least 27 people drowned. The 21-year-old had left his home in Iraqi-Kurdistan a month before, travelled through Belarus, and attempted the 20-mile journey across the Channel in the freezing conditions of the northern European winter. According to Muhammad, who spoke to Rudaw, 15 of those who died on the journey were Kurds. Mohammed and a man from Somalia are the only survivors.

Almost 26,000 people are thought to have crossed the Channel in small boats in 2021, an increase of nearly 8,700% in three years. Politicians in the UK have pinned the blame firmly on those who profit from the dangerous journeys.

The Home Secretary Priti Patel responded to the deaths by saying the UK will “stop the vile people-smuggling gangs”, insisting the journeys across the Channel are “absolutely unnecessary.” The migration crisis, as far as the British government is concerned, is that people are trying to enter the UK, rather than people being forced to leave their homes.

However, British foreign policies over the past twenty years have increased the number of refugees around the world. Furthermore, the UK has one of the least generous refugee policies of any wealthy nation and there are plans to make it even harsher, threatening to push tens of thousands of people deeper into misery, poison public debate in the UK with more xenophobic rhetoric, and disalow the British public a chance to acknowledge the effects recent wars have had on their society. 

Instead, Britain needs to acknowledge that post-9/11 wars led to the displacement of millions of people and provide routes for safe access for the very small numbers, when compared with countries in the Middle East and the European Union example, who wish to settle in the UK.


Asylum Requests in the UK

Contrary to popular belief, the number of asylum requests in the UK is tiny. There were 37,562 claims for asylum made over the last 12 months.

This is low compared with other EU nations and extremely low compared with less wealthy states in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. For example, Germany received 122,015 and France 93,475 applications. Per head of the population, the UK has the 17th highest intake of refugees compared with EU states. 

UK and US Wars and ISIS

Britain’s wars following 9/11, undertaken hand-in-hand with the US, have resulted in the displacement of between 37m and 59m people. By 2007, the Iraq War had left 4.7m people displaced within their own country or as refugees or asylum seekers elsewhere.

The rise of Islamic State and the bloody years in the second decade of the century caused the displacement of at least a further 2m people. Last year, 9.2m people were internally displaced or refugees abroad as a result of the invasion. Tellingly, there has been no thorough study on the number of refugees created from the conflict. 

The UK has never had a proper scheme for the resettlement of Iraqis. Even now, Iraqis are far less likely than other nationalities to be granted asylum.

Following the civil war period in Iraq, Britain only accepted 69, 355, and 432 Iraqi refugees each year from 2007 to 2009 through a scheme designed to resettle Iraqis who had worked with British forces. In the same period, Sweden, France, and Germany accepted many more.

The UK has not improved in its obligations to Iraqis fleeing violence. In the year preceding June 2021, for example, only 30% of requests from Iraqi asylum seekers were granted on the first decision.

Some of these decisions are eventually overturned and for those who are waiting for a decision, often for years, it’s a grueling period; unable to work and given only £5.64 a day for food, sanitation, and clothing. 

Displacement After Invasion of Iraq

Jason Hart, Senior Lecturer at the University of Bath, points out that the invasion of Iraq led to wider forced displacement in the Middle East. “It’s fair to link the destabilization in Iraq experienced since the invasion of 2003 to destabilization across the region", he told Al Bawaba. “This has not been properly discussed in the mainstream British media.

“When I was working in Jordan in 2014, looking at the response to the Iraqi displacement, the UK did not want to talk about it or acknowledge its role in creating the conditions for that displacement. It was surprising to me that the US were willing to do that, which just showed the UK in an even worse light.” 

Every day more people attempt the same deadly journey across the Channel as Mohammed Shekha and those who died in horrific circumstances last week. The British government treats them as subhuman; housing them in inadequate accommodation and forcing them to sleep on concrete floors with only one toilet for up to 250 people.

The UK’s recent wars created millions of refugees. It needs to stand up to its responsibilities to those who want to flee the violence.

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