The United Kingdom’s decision to vote leave in the referendum on European Union membership has had far reaching effects. Financial markets in all major financial centres were in free fall, the pound sterling dropped to a 30 year low, and a petition for a re-vote has garnered over two million signatures. British PM David Cameron resigned, and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is fighting for political survival. With all the uncertainty following this decision, what does the vote mean for refugees and asylum seekers across the world?
The initial campaign
David Cameron proposed the referendum in the lead-up to the last UK election in a bid to lessen the reach of the far-right United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). UKIP leader Nigel Farage campaigned strongly for a Leave vote, with protection of the United Kingdom’s borders a central issue in the debate leading up to the referendum.
The UK’s EU membership meant that to gain access to the single common European market, the UK was required to accept the free movement of labour across EU member states. For some, this created the impression that people from less developed countries or economies within the EU, such as Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary, would flood the UK seeking work and place a strain on its employment, housing, and health systems. UKIP campaigned strongly on this xenophobic platform.
Attacks and abuse towards migrant communities in the UK
The refugee crisis that engulfed the EU in 2015 further fuelled the Leave campaign. The lack of EU funding to debt ravaged Greece meant that refugees escaping the horror in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East made their way through Turkey, into Greece, and onward through Europe. The Leave campaign took advantage of the perception that the UK, as a member of the EU, was unable to decide on how many refugees it would take and from where.
Since the referendum result, racial abuse and attacks in the UK have reportedly increased, due to the belief that migrants and refugees are a “problem” in need of resolution.
The impact on refugees generally
It is of great concern that a developed Western nation has taken a turn towards nationalism and insularism in a time when conflicts across the world are displacing people at unprecedented rates.
This is a time when refugees should be shown compassion and welcomed, while politicians, trading blocs, and international organisations work together to find peaceful solutions to the refugee crisis.
Adopting an Australian-style policy of boat turn-backs essentially sees Britain forcing someone else to deal with the problem of the magnitude of the Syrian crisis. This is inconsistent with the notion of a cohesive global community that has grown from the last great people moving crisis, World War Two.
With the recent growth of far-right national movements against immigration across much of the Western world, the future prospects of re-settlement of asylum seekers in developed nations is being placed at risk.
James Gounis, LLB(Hons), BCom (Newcastle), DipLegPrac (College of Law)