The refugee crisis and the UK’s PR politics

by Nando Sigona
The refugee crisis is now – in Budapest, Kos, Lesvos, Calais, Pozzallo, Zuwarah, but the UK government pledges to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees over five years (i.e. 4000 a year). Are Cameron & co. expecting the civil war to last that long or are they playing a game of cynical math wizardry? What about the non-Syrian forced migrants? Why are they less deserving?
Over the weekend, rumours on the exact figure behind the ‘thousands more refugees’ announcement circulated, 15,000 refugees was reported by a number of newspapers. But today France and Germany pledged to take an extra 55,000 refugees on the EU compulsory quota system over the next 2 years (overall the scheme will involve 160,000 asylum seekers). Perhaps feeling outnumbered by such generosity, the UK’s PM decided to revise its figure at the last minute to make a better impression (and help pro-Tory tabloids to produce catchy headings tomorrow), but, as additional funding is hard to find at such short notice, the boost to the figure was obtained by spreading the pledge over a longer period. A more confident Cameron could have promised 80,000 refugees over 20 years!
Turning the refugee crisis into an opportunity for the military-industrial complex and anti-Labour propaganda

Turning the refugee crisis into an opportunity for the military-industrial complex and anti-Labour propaganda

Is this another example of Cameron’s PR politics? Good for tweets and front pages but quick to unfold at closer scrutiny. Or even worst, it hides much less humanitarian motives behind the facade. Today’s announcement is not only less generous than it sounded in the House of Commons,  the refugee crisis is used as another point scoring trick against the EU (‘we are free to choose our way because we are outside Schengen‘, said Cameron in the Commons) and undermines attempts to restore EU solidarity; it offers no contribution vis-a-vis the crisis at EU borders, reinforces a pick & choose approach to refugee protection by setting its own criteria of deservingness, offers half-backed and short term rights to a group of refugees (who the UK government does not actually define as ‘refugees’ as it is only prepared to offer temporary leave to remain), and allocates inadequate resources that will hardly incentivise cash-striken local authorities to offer resettlement places (see poor success of this scheme to date). Last but not least, we can safely predict that the government will certainly use this act of ‘generosity’ towards Syrians to be tougher with other forced migrants and to engage in a new bombing campaign (and we saw what happened in Libya after the last one).

Cameron’s latest offer is not only inadequate to the scale of the refugee crisis,  derisory‘ and ‘pathetic’, according to Paddy Ashdown, but ultimately just a cynical exercise which will do little to alleviate the situation of millions of Syrian refugees and even less for the other forced migrants at Europe’s shores.
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