UK must ‘consider its role’ in migrant crisis – campaigners

The UK must stop “demonising” refugees and consider its own role in creating the circumstances they are escaping from, campaigners say.

Thousands of migrants have risked their lives to reach the UK this year by crossing the English Channel in everything from kayaks to a paddling pool.

The list of countries they hail from is diverse, but many have left nations wracked by conflicts the UK has been linked to in some way.

Places like Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Libya have all seen direct British military involvement in some form.

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

Bahri Yanbu ship concerns
Bahri Yanbu ship concerns

UK-built and licensed Typhoon and Tornado warplanes have been used in combat missions by Saudi Arabia in the ongoing conflict.

International Trade Secretary Liz Truss announced last month that the UK would resume arms sales to Saudi Arabia after fresh analysis by the Government of alleged violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) involving Saudi air strikes in Yemen concluded any breaches were “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 Border Force 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.”

Ms 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, Ms 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.”