Drew Smith

Interested in International Security, Terrorism and Geopolitics. Constantly on the look out for my next travel adventure.

Little England Syndrome: why British attitudes towards Europe’s migrant crisis are so perverse

Published by British Future

It is a curious thing when someone of a centre-right disposition, with similarly right of centre views on immigration, has cause to rail against the right-wing press.

However, speaking as someone whose role of late has been consumed by the migrant crisis in Calais, I have seen first-hand, and been alarmed by, the pervasive ignorance of the situation. The public, it seems, are suffering from something I’ve dubbed ‘Little England Syndrome’.

Don’t get me wrong: until recently I lived in Folkestone, site of the Channel Tunnel entrance, and I’ve been as alarmed as anyone by the ease with which migrants have gained illegal access to the ostensibly secure site. The migrants in Calais have no right to come to the UK; either because they are economic migrants or because, under the Dublin Regulation, those with legitimate asylum claims should have them processed in the first state they reach. For those in Calais this is clearly not the UK (it is less well-known that the majority of refugees entering Britain do so through our airports, often with fake documentation). As such, and in spite of my sympathy for the migrants on a human level, I no more want to see them succeed in their journey than is the prevailing norm.

That said, there seems to be very little appreciation that the bigger picture is one in which the world is struggling with its largest refugee crisis since the Second World War. Never mind the catastrophic scale of the tumult afflicting countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea and Iraq, some of which we share varying degrees of responsibility for; the discourse in certain parts of Britain, fuelled by Daily Express headlines such as “Send in army to halt migrant invasion” and “Ebola threat reaching UK shores” is one of pure, unabashed British self-interest. This focus on how ‘they’ will all be stealing our jobs, houses and hospital beds, while frolicking with taxpayer-funded handouts, means the wider realities, facts and tragedy are often sadly overlooked

The Daily Express’ Leo Mckinstry wrote recently that Britain “could become like Africa” and denounced those “who trumpet immigration” as colluders in “the destruction of our great nation”. Clearly this is ridiculous hyperbole, but if every migrant seeking asylum or a better life in Europe was destined for Britain perhaps I might share his fears. The thing is though, they aren’t. Just because migrants interviewed in Calais describe reaching the UK as “their dream” doesn’t mean that’s indicative of the broader pan-European experience. The downtrodden inhabitants of ‘the Jungle’ in Calais make up a tiny fragment (between 1 and 2%) of the more than 200,000 illegal immigrants who have landed on Greek and Italian beaches this year alone. In spite of this influx, numbers in Calais have remained stubborn at around 4,000. It is clear then that not everyone who makes it to Europe heads straight to Calais, motivated by a shared desire to benefit from our “generous welfare system” as Nigel Farage and some sections of the press would have us believe.

Of the 357,000 asylum applications made in Europe last year, just 7% (26,000) were made in the UK. Of those, 10,500 were accepted. For perspective – severely lacking in some quarters – that equates to 0.01% of our population size. Migrants making it across the Mediterranean have been far more likely to head to Sweden and Germany where, in the latter’s case, six times as many people claimed refugee status in 2014. Per head of population, asylum seekers are four times as likely to succeed in their applications in Sweden. Even the much-maligned French took in more than twice our number last year. Perversely, none of these facts appear much appreciated or widely aired.

Even so, at a time when Britain faces problems of its own, we shouldn’t be taking in more of the world’s downtrodden – right? Again, wrong. According to Britain’s Refugee Council, the number of refugees in the UK has fallen by 76,439 since 2011. Compare this with Lebanon where an influx of Syrian refugees has swelled the population by a quarter since then and Turkey, the new home to 1.8 million refugees, and it is clear that by no appreciable measure is Britain on the front-line of Europe’s migrant crisis. However with myopic newspaper headlines like “Migrants are stealing our washing” and “Posters tell migrants they can lie about their sexuality to claim asylum” is it any wonder that this is far from known?

Strong support for our country’s tradition of offering people a place of safety does of course exist. A YouGov poll released in June found that more than eight out of ten first time voters at the General Election felt this was something the nation should be proud of, and three quarters wanted Britain to maintain its role as a safe place for people fleeing war, violence and persecution. Less likely to read titles like the Daily Mail and Daily Express, whose readership’s are more likely to view immigration as a major issue, “Generation Welcome”, as they have been named, could provide the government with cover to take on a larger role. It is doubtful however that such a move would ever be palatable to other segments of the British electorate who this summer have seemingly come down with a severe bout of Little England Syndrome.

The German’s are proud of being the EU state home to the largest number of refugees. Without the pernicious influence of our right-wing press, perhaps we British would enjoy a bit more perspective on the humanitarian crisis our continent faces today.

Like the migrants in Calais, all one can do is hope.

Migrant Camp


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This entry was posted on August 17, 2015 by in Politics, War and tagged , , , , , , , , , .
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