Refugee crisis: are we doing enough?


Refugees at Zakany Railway Station, Hungary on the way to Germany in October 2015

Susan Smith questions whether the British public, government and aid agencies are doing enough in the face of the ongoing European refugee crisis

Susan Smith's photo

11th November 2015 by Susan Smith 0 Comments

According to the United Nations, nearly 800,000 migrants have arrived in Europe by sea this year, while an additional 350,000 have died or gone missing on the way. This is an unprecidented crisis in our neighbourhood, but are we as individuals, governments and aid agencies doing enough to help?

All year the news has been full of heart breaking stories, beginning in April when 1,200 people died after five boats sank in the Mediterranean. It built up over the summer with the horrors of the Calais crisis, and the discovery of 71 bodies in an abandoned truck in Austria. And it climaxed in the death of three-year-old Alan Kurdî in September. It was this last that galvonised many into action, but despite this, children are still dying in the Mediterranean. 

This week, another boat sank between Turkey and the Greek island of Lesvos, leaving 14 dead including seven children.

The UK government’s failure to provide support to refugees in Europe is well documented, and is as embarassaing as it is callous

Innocent people fleeing their homes are also still at the mercy of criminal traffickers aiming to get rich from their suffering. The Italian mafia, for example, is thought to make more money from people smuggling that drug trafficking.

The UK government’s failure to provide support to refugees in Europe is well documented, and is as embarassaing as it is callous. Now, however, news is coming out that suggests aid agencies are also not pulling their weight.

Last week English artist Eric Kempson visited Glasgow and spoke at a Positive Action in Housing organised event.

Kempson lives on Lesvos and, alongside other local people, is the first to greet refugees arriving on the island with nothing.

His strongly worded accusation is that aid agencies are conning the public by asking for donations and not providing support for refugees. This is denied by those agencies who do operate on Lesvos – the UNHCR and International Red Cross. And yet, it is still Kempson, his family and friends who are there as people arrive on the beach, helping them get a meal and essential medical support, and directing them to where they can continue their journey hopefully to asylum within Europe.

From a distance, it's hard to know the truth.

There is no doubt that British aid agencies are spending public donations on fantastic work around the world. Organisations like Save the Children, Mercy Corps, UNHCR and Oxfam have major operations in the Middle East right now, trying to help the 3,000,000 Syrian refugees who have fled to refugee camps in neighbouring countries.

This is vitally important work, but is it enough? Half the refugees that have come to Europe this year are Syrian. Others are from Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo – very few fall into the “economic migrant” category that certain voices chose to highlight.

The truth is that the British public care a lot about people suffering on their doorstep. The surge in grassroots activities to raise funds and goods to help people in Calais, Greece and throughout Europe shows this. As the crisis continues and winter sets in, though, the need is only going to increase.

There are a lot of demands on the international third sector, but perhaps it is time that it too questoned whether there is more it can do.