In the last few days a rather sad group of MPs including at least two from Sussex have commented publicly in a very negative way about people who are trying to cross the Channel to reach our land. It seems vital for those of us who are concerned about these matters to find out about the asylum seeking and refugee issues that lie behind many of these cases. Sadly despite the resources which are available for Government Ministers and even MPs to do this research, far too many of them appear to have chosen to ignore the information. A number of years ago one of my family members went over to Calais and spent some time with some of the people who were there at that time. That experience was very helpful for my relative and for all of us who heard the stories of what happened at the time. Following the recent death of a boy from Sudan who was trying to cross the Channel, several comments emerged publicly from some of the people who are currently working over in Calais. They are trying to assist the families and individuals, many of whom have taken more than a year to travel from the nation where they were born and grew up in, to get to Calais before they start to cross the Channel. A number of these people want to come to our nation to find safety from the threats that they have experienced for many years. As one of the workers said a few days ago “Things need to change. We need a way for people’s asylum claims to be fairly heard without them having to risk their lives,” another one stated “Most of the young people have already been on the road for 12-18 months. Most have already had risk-laden journeys through Libya or from Turkey to Greece”
At the same time that this young person’s tragedy was taking place in the Channel our Prime Minister was up in Scotland on holiday. Let us hope that during this time he has been hearing about the history of the clearance of the Highlands, it would appear from the images that this is the area he is staying in. Interestingly some of the people who cleared the land at that time were members of the same political party as he and many of our local MPs are currently members of. That history may help explain why their party is not very popular in certain parts of Scotland. The clearance of land by the land owners led to thousands of people being forced to travel overseas to find a new home for them and their families. Perhaps this background could help some of the current MPs and Ministers to understand why Refugee and Asylum Seeking are issues for them to treat more positively. Indeed the comment by Sir Bernard Jenkin a few days ago should also do so when he expressed concern that the Government has been repeatedly refusing to take the blame for its mistakes. He stated that there was a ‘sort of pattern setting in’ under Mr Johnson’s watch, whereby ‘something goes wrong and it is the permanent secretary’s fault or it is some public body’s fault’.
Although our nation is no longer clearing people from land in the way things happened in the 18th and 19th Centuries, even today there are people who do seek asylum from the UK over to other nations. The latest data states that 71 people from the UK sought asylum in 2018. Most of them went to Australia and a few over to America. Whatever the reason behind these cases, it is of course clear that our nation is approached by many more people than this each year. However although we had over 37,000 people who wanted asylum or were coming as refugees in 2018, this was far fewer than France which had more than three times as many and Germany that had four times as many. The other EU nations dealing with more people are Greece, Spain and Italy. Other nations that have been approached by more people are Turkey and then in America, their nations are Peru, USA, Brazil and Canada. It is important that we are aware of the wider picture than simply what is happening here on our South Coast. As some people have identified, the increases across the Channel have occurred because of the travel limits caused by COVID-19. It would be helpful if MPs like Sally-Ann Hart and Tim Loughton who have both appeared on TV in the last few days to raise their concerns could focus on a wider set of issues than what they have spoken about so far. Perhaps if the Sussex MPs could visit Calais that would help improve their current understanding!