Government reaction to the refugee crisis: humanitarian response or political opportunism?

Ann Singleton, Senior Research Fellow, University of Bristol and consultant to the Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC), Berlin

Ann Singleton, Senior Research Fellow, University of Bristol and currently on secondment to the Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC), Berlin

Dr Monish Bhatia, Abertay University

Dr Monish Bhatia, Abertay University

Recently the public and media became aware, through one image across Europe (and the world) of the plight of people fleeing for their lives. Within the UK this image produced an awakening after months and years of warnings about the consequences of policy failures, wars and discrimination against migrants. Evidence of the catastrophic failures of UK and EU migration policies, which are based solely on immigration control, borders and ‘security’, have been disbelieved or treated with scepticism by policy makers, officials and many academics.

Repeated reports of deaths in the Mediterranean were ignored or seen as someone else’s problem, the public having been fed a relentless ‘diet’ of poisonous ‘news‘ and rhetoric about migration in general. Institutional racism and discrimination was further embedded as asylum seekers (including children) in the UK were detained, portrayed as troublesome, instead of being welcomed and offered protection. Furthermore, the consequences of austerity are continuously blamed on migrants.

There is a crisis of democracy, as well as policy and a humanitarian crisis, which has been fuelled by the action and inaction of our government.

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Refugee crisis: Ten practical ways to help

How can we respond to the refugee crisis? Ten practical ways.

Dr Naomi Millner is a lecturer in human geography at the University of Bristol. She is also part of Bristol Hospitality Network - an organisation which helps support and house refugees.

Dr Naomi Millner is a lecturer in human geography at the University of Bristol. She is also part of Bristol Hospitality Network – an organisation which helps support and house refugees.

In the past couple of weeks, an issue that has long been an issue has hit a ‘tipping point’ in terms of public awareness. It’s strange when this happens. Suddenly the language of ‘crisis’ proliferates. Suddenly everyone wants to know what they can do to help. Historically, it’s often been images of suffering children that either provoke such tipping points, or channel them to a wider audience.

Perhaps it is the powerlessness of a baby in the face of indifferent natural or political forces that brings this rise out of us. Or perhaps it makes a far-off struggle suddenly feel very near.

Personally, I find it problematic that, first, we are (almost) only moved to action by such images and second, that the action we are moved to is largely motivated by pity or sympathy. I wish we were as easily moved by the struggle or suffering of any person. Still more, sympathy can unwittingly depoliticise what are extremely political situations. If I feel sorry for you and want to help you, I am largely ignoring the fact that I have, and am, part of creating this situation that you are in. Better to be angry, outraged, repentant, about it.

Perhaps it would be better if, for once in our long history, we actually did nothing. But we still want to act. It’s also true that systems, attitudes and policies need to change, if people seeking liveable lives are to be able to do this within our current world. So what will we do? How can we respond?

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