UK should ‘consider its role’ in migrants crisis, say refugee campaigners

A picture of Home secretary Priti Patel with two men in suits behind her

Home secretary Priti Patel asked staff to explore building an asylum seeker processing centre on Ascension Island - Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire.

Refugee campaigners have told the UK to stop 'demonising' asylum seekers and consider its own role in creating the environment they are escaping from.

Thousands of migrants have risked their lives this year by crossing the English Channel in anything from kayaks to paddling pools.

Many have come from nations devastated by conflicts that the UK has been involved in some way. Places like Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Libya, for exmaple, have all seen direct British military involvement in some form.

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But most alarming is the small number of migrants which have been seen coming from Yemen, which is suffering what is believed to be the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

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UK-built and licensed Typhoon and Tornado warplanes have been used in combat operations by Saudi Arabian pilots in the ongoing conflict.

International trade secretary Liz Truss resumed the trade of arms to Saudi Arabia last month after fresh analysis by the government of alleged violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) involving Saudi air strikes in Yemen were found to be 'isolated incidents'.

The Home Office has not provided numbers of how many people from Yemen have crossed to the UK by small boat in 2020.

However, analysis by the PA news agency of the available data reveals that at least 23 of the boats intercepted by British Border Forces have contained one or more people who said they were Yemeni nationals.

SNP MP Alison Thewliss, who is a member of All-Party Parliamentary Group for Yemen, told PA the government has a responsibility to refugees and criticised its response to small boats crossings.

She said: 'I think it has been really difficult for people to get out of Yemen really, given the circumstances it has been in.

'Historically the numbers of Yemenis that have made it here has been quite a low number.'

Thewliss called on the government to establish safe and legal routes for people wishing to claim asylum in the UK.

Commenting on the UK's sale of arms to Saudi Arabia, she said: 'We are selling arms to one party in a conflict, we really have to step up and take more responsibility than (we) normally would.

'Saudi Arabia cannot be trusted to use the arms that we sell them responsibly. We should not be selling to them, it's as simple as that.'

On the wider small boats issue, Thewliss said the idea of sending the Navy in to deal with people in rubber dinghies is 'outrageous' and said the government was using it as a distraction from the Covid-19 pandemic.

In February PA revealed how a Saudi Arabian cargo ship feared to be carrying weapons for the Yemen conflict made a 'cloak-and-dagger' stop at a UK dock under cover of darkness.

Andrew Smith, of Campaign Against Arms Trade, said: 'The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is the worst in the world.

'It is a crisis that has been exacerbated and fuelled by UK-made arms and the UK government's support for the brutal Saudi-led bombardment.

'Many of the people crossing the Channel have left terrible circumstances.

'They are people that deserve empathy and solidarity, not the kind of scaremongering and scapegoating that we have seen from Boris Johnson and his colleagues.

'Governments like the UK must stop demonising refugees and consider their own roles in creating the circumstances that people are escaping from.'

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