The refugee crisis, in which thousands upon thousands of desperate people are fleeing countries such as Syria in an attempt to reach EU countries, has been in the public eye for quite a while now. The response from the general public in the UK has been quite disturbing; despite humanitarian concerns (recently perpetuated by distressing images of a dead child, even though we had known about the death toll for months prior to these images) and many UK citizens, organizations and charities pressuring our government to take in their share of refugees, many other people (including, until recently, our own prime minister David Cameron) have been opposed to offering asylum to these people, arguing that it will encourage more and more people to come and that Britain cannot take the extra numbers. A poll by the Telegraph has shown that 54% of people who answered didn’t think the UK should take more refugees.
The distinction between refugees and migrants, the latter who allegedly want to come to the UK to benefit from our health and welfare systems, has been being blurred and sometimes used interchangeably in a very unhelpful way, and the arguments used against them seem fairly generic and largely incorrect. I’ve been looking into it, and from what I have found most, if not all, of these arguments against letting refugees into the UK are incorrect, exaggerated and disturbingly similar to arguments used by newspapers like the Daily Mail against the UK accepting refugees trying to escape Germany in the 1930s during the build up to the second world war.
The UK has pledged to accept 20,000 migrants into the UK by 2020, but as the crisis is happening now, as Germany and France are accepting a far larger number than this (Germany has said they will take 500000 refugees a year), and because I believe we can and should at least double and probably triple the amount of asylum seekers we let into the UK, I’m going to look at several potential arguments against letting these people in and show why they are wrong.
1: Britain is full, i.e the UK is a small, already over populated Island that cannot house all these new refugees, let alone their children and grand children
Britain is not full, and the housing crisis is not the fault of immigrants or even a rising population. According to http://www.emptyhomes.com/, there are (or were at the time of writing) 610,000 empty homes in England, which is far more than is needed to house these 20,000 migrants, in fact you could house every refugee that Germany has said they can take per year (500,000) and still have houses to spare. There are also empty and/or abandoned pubs, restaurants, hotels, office buildings, and other vacant commercial properties that could be turned into housing more easily and quickly then it would take to build new houses.
There is also a lot of space to build new houses. If you have ever been on a long distance train or coach in the UK, you will see for yourself just how much land there is that is largely devoid of houses (or will have a couple of isolated, lonely houses surrounded by countryside), and yes I appreciate that a lot of land is used for farming and crops, but I have been to several of these places up and down the country and I am here to tell you that it there is a lot of land that could be used to build new houses.
Apart from London, most UK cities are not actually that large, and their suburbs are often on the brink of the types of land I have just described. There is room to enlarge these residential areas and build more homes. Of course we shouldn’t do away with all our country side, I personally love visiting it (although I could never live there) and it is important for our environment that we maintain our forests and do not unnecessarily start cutting down trees, but a lot of this land is not forests, and does not have a lot of trees (trees don’t have to be cut down, trees can live alongside houses) and is often not doing very much. I recently read an article on the BBC website that claimed that “The urban landscape accounts for 10.6% of England, 1.9% of Scotland, 3.6% of Northern Ireland and 4.1% of Wales.“, and claimed that “In England, “78.6% of urban areas is designated as natural rather than built”. Since urban only covers a tenth of the country, this means that the proportion of England’s landscape which is built on is… 2.27%. Yes. According to the most detailed analysis ever conducted, almost 98% of England is, in their word, natural.” (see full article at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-18623096) This was written a few years back, and I can’t comment on its exact accuracy, but it is in line what I have observed on my many trips up and down the country that country side and underpopulated areas vastly exceed compact city and residential spaces, and when people say “Britain is full” it seems quite ridiculous to me, because if anything Britain is actually quite empty. I see no reason why we cannot build a lot of new houses and still maintain a lot of the British country side.
Population growth may be a problem decades down the line, as people will have children who will have grand children etc, but this does gloss over the fact that a: humans don’t currently live forever and although people do live longer then they used to, the population won’t just keep rising and rising without limit because people will die, b: people can and do emigrate to other countries and quite a few UK nationals will not spend their entire lives (or their children’s lives) in the UK, and c: on average people are having less children then they did a few decades ago, and in about twenty years if less and less people do continue to have children we may actually need immigration to boost our youthful population. If it was a million new people who would be moved here tomorrow, I might have some slight misgivings, but I strongly believe we have the capacity to at least double the amount of refugees the UK has said they will take.
2: We do not have enough resources for us and all these new people
Supermarkets waste food every day, and we have a lot of excess that is thrown away. According to a blog on the LSE website, “Britons dispose of 7 million tons of food and drink from their homes every year – the majority of which is still edible“, and the UK, The US and Europe have nearly twice as much food as is actually needed by their populations. We have heard the stories of people who go through supermarket bins and feed large numbers of people on the food these supermarkets throw away, and just from going to a supermarket we can see the vast quantities of food they stock and I find it very hard to believe that an extra 40,000 or so people would make a huge difference on these resources, especially considering the amount of supermarkets we have in this country. These extra people are not going to double the population any time soon, and they would need to literally double it in order to make any noticeable difference as far as food is concerned if these figures are correct.
There are concerns about a water shortage, and this is something I’ll admit I don’t know very much about, but I haven’t seen any warnings or felt any repercussions from that so as far as I am aware this is not a massive concern. Of course there are environmental issues about more people using more un-green energy sources and slowly killing our planet, but 1: this is a worldwide thing, not limited to the UK, and 2: we need to look into how we can make energy more efficient and utilize things that can contribute to it (a big one being rubbish- rather than landfill it can be sent to facilities that can burn it to create energy) rather than using it as an excuse not to allow people into the country. There may be pressure on schools, but some of these migrants may be teachers and more people may encourage more schools to be opened, which in turn would create jobs and allow more choice. There may be pressure on the NHS in some areas, but some of these migrants may be trained in the medical profession and may be able to positively benefit the NHS in a variety of roles. I’d say we have a lot more to fear from an aging population than immigration in this department as older people typically require more medical care; does this mean we should kick out old people? I am assuming the refugees would not all be sent to one location and would be spread out around the country, and so I do not believe there would be nearly as great a strain on public services as one may think, and especially in certain areas the benefits may greatly outweigh the costs.
3. Refugees are here to benefit from our health, jobs, houses and welfare
This doesn’t make any sense to me. I do not believe anyone would travel thousands of miles in a perilous and potentially deadly journey and end up waiting for months in a camp hoping for asylum unless they actually had to. Are we that conceited that we think people would go through all that just because they want to come to the UK? Really? We know where a lot of these people are coming from, as far as I am aware over half of the refugees are from Syria and Britain appears to have said they will take exclusively Syrian refugees. Syria as we know is in the middle of a war and the population is being terrorized. These people did not come here for an easy life, they made a very hard and dangerous journey because they did not have any choice, and we have no right to dismiss these peoples experience based on some misjudged and incorrect prejudices.
There also seems to be a pretty weird assumption that immigrants do not have any skills, that they seemingly just existed un-productively in their own country until they tried to come here. But that’s just not true, many of these people are going to be skilled in a range of professions that they would have practiced prior to current events that they can use to benefit our society and economy. The people attempting to enter the EU who have been interviewed by UK journalists have come from a range of professions, such as law, journalism, and teaching, and many are students. There is no evidence that these people are not planning to work once they come here, and I see no reason to assume that. Helping these people find houses and professions will take time and money, but this will not be a long term thing and in the long run our economy is likely to benefit in many areas.
People often freak out about immigration because they fear they will ‘take our jobs’ and drive down wages. But according to the Telegraph last year said, and I quote, “on average there were 683,000 vacancies in the UK job market in the third quarter of 2014”. That’s definitely more than enough jobs to go around, and a lot of the problems are down to people not having the right skills for certain jobs, not having enough experience, people not advertising properly or high turn overs, but it is simply untrue to simply say that there are not enough jobs to go around and go on to blame immigrants for stealing them. According to these statistics you could double, and even triple, the amount of refugees the UK has agreed to take and still have more than enough jobs for everyone. We need to invest in training and help people in the UK make choices that will make them more employable, not blame refugees for an imaginary job shortage.
I have yet to find one convincing argument for why we should not accept more refugees than we have agreed to take, and how doubling or (hopefully) tripling that number to be more in line with the rest of the EU would have a negative impact on the UK .Humanitarianism aside for the moment (if thousands of desperate people wasn’t enough to sway you) I cannot see any logical reason why we cannot take more than 20,000 refugees. Yes, we should monitor it and not just open the doors for millions of people, but we can easily accommodate more than 20,000 and if we can, we should. The history books will judge us for this, and decades from now history students will study this exact subject and wonder what the hell was wrong with us, just like we do now about Nazi Germany and Britains refusal to save more people fleeing the Nazi regime (largely due to prevalent anti antisemitism, a shared belief in eugenics and these decade old arguments of Britain not having the space). Fears of over population have been around for decades, and they have never reached the numbers people feared and have never had as much of an impact as people said they would, and I see no reason why now is any different. We need to remember our role in the what is going on in Syria, our role in the Iraq war and the power vacuum that has led to the rise of IS, and before complaining about taking in these people actually think about why they need to come here, because we are not blameless and we need to take our share of responsibility.
If you have any arguments I have not mentioned, or you want to dispute anything I’ve said please leave a comment. Thanks for reading.