The Situation in Calais Is a Test of Our Principles, Humanity and European Co-Operation
10 Feb 2016On Wednesday February 3, I asked Justine Greening in International Development Questions whether the government would be taking children from refugee camps in Europe.
This followed myself and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn visiting the refugee camp in Calais that has become known as the Calais Jungle. The purpose of my visit was both to offer support and to see first-hand what conditions are like for people staying there.
The camp is a fragile and desperate place. There are thousands of people, including babies and very young children, living in freezing conditions with no education, limited food and healthcare.
The efforts of the volunteers and agencies responding to the crisis are remarkable, but it is quite clear that much more needs to be done. This crisis is camped right on our doorstep and we have a clear moral obligation to work towards an effective, compassionate and sustainable solution. Sadly, the British government's response to the crisis has been piecemeal, ineffectual and slow.
Thousands have been stuck in a dehumanising limbo for far too long, and specifically, the refusal to take any children from Calais is wrong. They are suffering and at risk too.
But the situation in Calais is just one representation of this ongoing crisis around refugees. Europe is facing the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War - it's a test of our humanity, it's a test of our principles and it's a test of genuine European co-operation.
Yvette Cooper MP and others have provided terrible reports of the conditions in the refugee camps on Greek islands such as Lesbos, with no dry clothes, no shelter, no food and children sleeping in bin bags.
And this is just the situation in two parts of Europe. Lebanon, neighbouring Syria, now has the highest per-capita refugee population in the world, hosting over 1.2million of them.
A study by the Norwegian Refugee Council, No Place to Call Home, found that almost 50% of refugees interviewed in Lebanon were living in unfurnished housing, accommodation without a toilet or running water or exposed to the elements - and that 18% were living in informal settlements.
The specific effects on children of this crisis must also be recognised. Unicef reports that in Lebanon, for example, Syrian refugee children as young as 10 are victims of bonded agricultural labour.
From when the British government first announced it would resettle 20,000 refugees over five years and give £100million in aid, it has shown itself as out of touch with the population on this issue.
Last Wednesday David Cameron added insult to injury by referring to the people at the Calais camp as "a bunch of migrants."
Furthermore, this is a European crisis and efforts to ease it need to reflect that. We need improved co-ordination between countries, and Britain needs to play its part in this rather than pursuing a unilateral approach.
Over the summer, 442,288 people signed a petition - leading to a debate in Parliament - arguing that "the UK is not offering proportional asylum in comparison with European counterparts," and that "we can't allow refugees who have risked their lives to escape horrendous conflict and violence to be left living in dire, unsafe and inhumane conditions in Europe."
Now we need to build up the pressure again, redoubling our efforts for fair and humane treatment of refugees. The government must find additional emergency funding and ensure we do all we can to avert further humanitarian catastrophes.
* This article originally appeared at http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/diane-abbott/refugee-crisis_b_9149620.html