A Labour frontbencher has urged people to have more compassion for those trying to cross the English Channel, and pointed out the UK only takes a small percentage of refugees compared to other countries in Europe.
Appearing on LBC Radio, David Lammy urged listeners to think about those who are ‘getting in dinghies and make-shift boats and crossing the English Channel. Many of them dying on the way’.
He urged them to think what it must like to ‘gather up your children in a small dinghy with some paddles and take your life and their life in your hands and make your way across the water from Calais across to Kent.’
Lammy explained how he had gone to the refugee camps in France in 2019, saying: ‘I stood in the camps and this is what I saw. I saw thousands of refugees in these tents, I’ve got to say many of them did not have access to quality showers of any kind, quality toilets of any kind, there were many children running about.
‘I was hugely struck by some women who approached me when they found out I was a British MP, and they brought with them their children, and these two boys were autistic. They were presented in severe distress, and my heart broke for them’.
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He urged listeners to differentiate between those seeking economic immigration and asylum seekers and refugees, with ‘most of them wanting to work’ when they make it to the UK.
‘They’re coming, I saw them, from the Horn of Africa where there is a lot of conflict, some of them are climate refugees fleeing draught, famine and floods, and many of them are fleeing war’.
‘Britain doesn’t accommodate all of them,’ he added, as he revealed statistics showing in 2015 Germany took 1.1 million asylum seekers compared to 32,733 in the UK.
’80 million displaced people across the world are largely in their neighbouring country,’ suggesting other European countries take many more.
‘This was the country of the kinder transport. This was the country that took in Ugandan Asians when Idi Amin was being so horrendous to them and driving them out, this was the country – I remember my youth – that took in Viatmenese boat people. I grew up in Tottenham and we had many people arrive from Cyprus after the problems in Cyprus. This is the country we were.
‘And we’ve become a country now where we seem to have contracted out our border. No longer the White Cliffs of Dover, but basically to Sangatte and Calais, where it’s removed but where these young men are often are climbing onto lorries to get across, are getting into dinghies to get across, and many unaccompanied children are coming across as well’.
Lammy said that ‘what we are doing is not working’ and called on the government to work in a ‘civilised’ way to help them.
He pointed that home secretary Priti Patel’s ‘rhetoric’ echoes that of her predecessors including Sajid Javid and Theresa May.
He said: ‘Every summer people make it across the water and we keep getting calls to send them back without asking the fundamental question, ‘is it working?”
He added: ‘I suspect we are going to hear more of the rhetoric as the summer pursues’.