In 2015, David Cameron promised that the UK would take 4,000 refugees a year from camps near Syria: a total of 20,000 by 2020. He faced opposition from the Labour Party; Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury and David Miliband, the head of the International Rescue Committee, who argued that the UK should be taking 20,000 a year instead of 20,000 over 4 years. Germany’s government expected to accept up to a million refugees in 2015, and said it could take half a million a year over the next few years. As a country, we could be doing far more.
In Theresa May’s 2015 speech as Home Secretary during the Conservative Annual Conference, she called for the international definition of the word “refugee” to be changed; a move designed to shrink the definition. She stated that some refugees and asylum seekers were more deserving of aid than others, arguing: “there is a huge difference between a young Syrian family fleeing the tyranny of ISIL or Assad, and a student who claims asylum once he has been discovered overstaying his visa, or a foreign criminal about to be sent to a prison in his own country.”
In October 2016 she refused to accept more refugees, ignoring a direct plea from Francois Hollande for the UK to take in 1,500 child migrants from Calais. Over 100 French politicians wrote to Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, demanding immediate action and questioned whether the UK was living up to its moral duty. Mrs May refused to budge.
In March 2017 she implemented a “safe country review” policy, first announced when she was Home Secretary. All refugees living in the UK face a review after five years; the consequences may include losing their right to work, and potential deportation unless they have a legitimate reason for staying – 59,000 people who have been granted refugee status in the past five years will be affected.
Over the past few years, the Conservatives have offered substantial amounts of money to help solve the refugee crisis, but they have done little when it comes to allowing refugees to stay in the UK. Though funding is important, actively providing homes for refugees is as well. When the UK government has committed to policies, it has often failed to meet the numbers promised even though we could be taking in more refugees.
If you would like to support the refugees more than the PM, here are several things you can do. You can make donations to charities like Save the Children, sign petitions, or volunteer. The Kent Refugee Action Network provides help and support to asylum seekers and refugees, and is currently recruiting volunteers for its Refugee Youth Mentoring Project. You can apply via the network’s website (https://kran.org.uk). You can also volunteer with Migrant Help UK (www.migranthelpuk.org) and Dover Detainees Visiting Group (www.ddvg.org.uk).