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Labour must show its compassion in this refugee crisis

Calais refugee the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn visited the Calais and Grande-Synthe camps on the 23 January it was his first official trip abroad as Leader of the Opposition. That someone who I personally know to have been committed to the refugee and immigration issue all of his political life this should have been a source of pride for Labour and a signal that he was willing to take on one of the toughest and most persistent humanitarian and immigration issues of recent years on the UKs doorstep.

The most shocking thing about Calais – and there are many things that shock – is that it is an issue that is very solvable with the collective response of two of the world’s biggest economies within an EU which should be cooperating on these issues. At the UAF conference on Saturday 6 February, I will be saying very clearly that only one of the UK’s political leaders has had the courage to visit both camps, speak to the refugees and NGOs face-to-face then say clearly to the media that the humanitarian and refugee issue in Calais can and must be solved. Some of the refugees who approached Jeremy Corbyn to plead for his intervention were Kurdish. Jeremy has been a strong supporter of the Kurdish struggle for human rights and self-determination for many years. So it was clear that he understood both the origins and plight of the people he was speaking to in the camp.

Calais is only one part of the picture for failure by member states of the European Union in producing an organised and compassionate response to the refugee crisis. The UK government showed a clear lack of commitment at the beginning of the crisis in its attitude to refugees in the Mediterranean and solidarity to other countries such as Italy. The policy of taking small numbers in the vulnerable person’s refugee scheme (VPRS) while giving aid has led to a policy that lacks solidarity with other countries who have needed us to help with a more cooperative solution to this humanitarian refugee crisis.

The left must be clear in what it says about the refugee crisis. We have seen leadership from Jeremy Corbyn – his first public act following his election as Labour leader was to speak at the ‘Refugees Welcome’ demonstration in London and the TV interviews he gave after his visit to Calais showed an intelligent and compassionate grasp of the solutions. There are no easy answers for the left here, we must ensure that our own government steps up to the plate and takes its share of responsibility. In terms of the crisis across the rest of the EU it is clear that the failure of policy which is leading to death, suffering and chaos is not lack of policies at the external border or in terms of relocation but very often national political responses of EU countries to either accepting refugees or contributing to the effort of managing the crisis at the external borders of the EU or near the conflict zones. The left must be clear that the national responses of countries like Hungary are unacceptable and the generosity shown by Sweden cannot be sustained without a level of solidarity and cooperation.

On the left we are defined by our internationalism and I hope by our compassion towards refugees. Both shown recently by Labour – we should maintain the coalition of party members, NGOs, volunteers and civil society who are doing the right thing in the refugee crisis.

Claude Moraes MEP will be speaking at the UAF Welcome Refugees conference this Saturday 6 February. He is Labour MEP for London and the former director of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI)


  1. David Ellis says:

    `On the left we are defined by our internationalism and I hope by our compassion towards refugees.’

    Proletarian internationalism is solidarity between nations. What you are proposing is liberal cosmpolitanism which is the perfect ideology of neo-liberal globalisation. The people in the `Jungle’ in Calais either need to submit asylum claims to the French government or return home. It should be obvious to anyone that an open borders policy, which is entirely anti-democratic, would simply empty the camp out only for it to refill the very next day and that is not the solution to anything. The pseudo radical left are simply using ultra-leftism to boost their self-serving world view and in the meantime giving a huge boost to the far right.

    1. Jim Denham says:

      “Proletarian internationalism is solidarity between nations. What you are proposing is liberal cosmopolitanism”…

      What bollocks, Ellis!

      Proletarian internationalism is (the clue’s in the word) solidarity between workers and the oppressed, of all nations. AS the author of this excellent piece proposes, and you (like the anti-EU racists) oppose.

      1. David Ellis says:

        Solidarity between the proletariat of all nations. Inter-nationalism. The clue is in the name you liberal idiot. What the writer proposes is unworkable nonsense that would hand the initiative to the far right on a plate if ever implemented.

      2. David Ellis says:

        I love the idea that the oh so radical AWL will be voting for the neo-liberal EU and for Cameron’s anti-working class `reforms’. You haven’t got a principled bone in your body you Zionist twit.

        1. Jim Denham says:

          Learn the Marxist a-b-c Ellis. Start with the Communist Manifesto (especially the section on Reactionary Socialism) then try Marx’s speech on free trade. Then try Trotsky’s Learn To Think – a particularly apposite title in your wretched case.

          1. David Ellis says:

            Learn to think: you should. You and your open borders nonsense is just ultra-left crap. You think it is the withering away of the state but as long as capitalism is in place any withering away of the state is a withering away of democracy and the short cut to permanent civil war and warlordism. The ABC of Marxism will tell you that the state is there to prevent a futile civil war between the classes. Take it away when the classes still exist and you shall have your pointless civil war as they had in post-invasion Iraq. The state will wither away when classes wither away and that will not start to happen until after the socialist revolution.

          2. Dave Roberts says:

            Jim, you have just lost the argument. You have invoked Marxism. End of story. It was a creed, and it was that, a religion, that inflicted more suffering on the world than any other.

            Every nation and society that has lived under it did so because it was forced on them and when they had the chance they rejected it.

  2. David Ellis says:

    Talking of the EU here is a link to my Vote OUT for a socialist Europe facebook campaign that actually supports an actual programme for working class power and the transition to socialism and which is growing all the time.

  3. swatantra says:

    Have to profoundly disagree with Claude Moraes here.
    Yes we have to show compassion but that alone is not going to mitigate the plight of these people, a morass of people fleeing from all the worlds trouble spots and making their trek into Europe, across the borders their final destination the UK, Germany or Sweden, as probably the most tolerant countries. The would get no welcome in the European countries at all because of the racism endemic in all the former communist bloc countries. So they end up in Calais, on our doorstep, o jump trains ferries containers to enter the UK illegally.
    When they could just as well have been registered in Greece or Italy or France. And then relocated through a European agreement to other countries on a proper quota basis.
    he Refugees are not making things easier for themselves and considerably more difficult for the European countries. They cannot be choosers; they must accept what Europe decides.
    The Sansgatte Camps in Calais are a disgrace.
    Train jumping is a disgrace. And we should not be encouraging that sort of behaviour. Its just making the whole situation worse

  4. gerry says:

    What a stupid hippy article, Claude….as other commenters have said, you and the rest of the “refugees welcome” mob are truly ridiculous, advocating an open arms, open borders approach which is the polar opposite of international working class solidarity.

    You want the UK to accept hundreds of thousands of migrants/refugees but you also say that the UK has a social housing crisis, a poverty pay crisis, a food bank crisis, an overpressed NHS, an overpressed education service….dont you see how silly you are? The poorest people in the UK would be sent a clear message by you – they are going to be shoved even further down the foodchain by your dreadful hippy liberal politics.

    You haven’t learnt anything Claude…. remember New Labour’s absolutely disastrous decision in 2004 to throw open our economy to eastern European migrants? That criminal policy was the main reason for the rise of the BNP, then UKIP, and is one of the reasons why we lost so many working class votes after 2005….and an open door refugee policy would lose us even more votes, as well as being a silly self-defeating move anyway. Germany, Sweden, Denmark and others have quickly realised how stupid they were to say “refugees welcome” in their millions ….let’s not repeat a massive mistake here.

    1. John P Reid says:


  5. Verity says:

    Surely internationalism does not extend to support for rich Russian individuals entering the UK. Why – because it internationalism is not about support for an individual from another poor country doing the best for themselves. It means support for peoples, i.e. Groups of people contributing to their societies, not entrepreneurally doing the best for themselves, sometimes at the expense of others and their societies. There are many unguarded proclamations of ‘refugees’ from the Middle East (and further safe countries) claiming to care little for the plight of their fellows, albeit in my opinion very far from a majority. When it comes to the young and ‘healthy’ would we not all have sought such ambition and adventure, even when it did lead to plight and danger.

    This distinction highlights the problem of authors who carelessly interchange the terms ‘refugee’ and ‘migrant’. In my opinion, it is the failure by liberals to make this distinction that makes it so difficult to command support for taking large numbers of refugees to the UK. If the UK could escape the EU obligations to indulge personal advancement, so much more ‘internationalism’ could be advanced. The self – seekers from safe East European countries clearly have so much valuable political work to do changing their own government’s policies rather than sidestepping it. The employment and housing subsidies for some East European low pay would go such a long way to assist with the economic and social integration of refugees. It is irresponsible not to ensure support for refugees on arrival. Not one amongst those liberals has offered a worked out plan for support and integration – only to allow them to flounder and then become alienated. But no doubt many of those liberals proclaim the enlightened liberalism of the EU in indulging the prospects of East European self-seekers.

    Although ‘liberals’ are more often individually compassionate/humanitarian, compassion and humanitarianism, is not owned by the Left. The Right consists of individuals with those same human qualities, who can also be capable of that individual emotion of compassion. They are individual qualities, not political policy. In my opinion what distinguishes the Left from the liberals/Right is the recognition of the need to develop a programme for the social and economic integration of ‘refugees’ not to indulge personal prospects or advancement from cohorts of people ‘coat – tailing’ from (relatively) safe countries, paying smugglers well for life’s advancement. Liberals do such serious damage to the arguments for taking refugees. Individual emotions are not political policy.

  6. Bazza says:

    If I had visited Calais I would have suggested practical action too but I don’t really need to go – I have seen enough poverty in my life (and experienced it for my first 36 years (and see it weekly in my work and when canvassing for Labour) but for example surely we/the EC could supply portacabins as temporary but decent accomodation with heating and water (instead of the tents) and perhaps put pebbles down or so on the ground etc. to curtail the horrible mud – things like this.
    We shouldn’t allow human beings (including women and children to live like this) as we try to process asylum applications (as Britain etc. could take more) and some cabins could be used for schools etc. & perhaps with solar panels on roofs could also be a cheap and renewable source of energy.
    I remember reading a great piece by an historian who told how all off us were pushed off the land in the 19thC by the agricultural revolution and pulled to the factories (and slums) of the cities by the industrial revolution; so in the UK we were all refugees once!
    And just look at our heritage; Angles, Jutes, Celts, Vikings, Romans, Normans, etc. etc. and we truly are Europeans!
    I’m working class and not a middle class liberal but don’t agree in an open door policies for do we then let in sex traffickers, criminal gangs etc. but we should accept human beings who are genuine refugees and show compassion.
    But we should also try to get all migrants to join trade unions so they cannot be used to undercut wages by unscrupulous employers plus many may sleep in a room what with up to 10+ bunk beds?
    Joining unions will also help to build community solidarity as well as fighting exploitation in all areas! So any migrants reading this join unions and encourage others too!
    Guess I must be a left wing democratic international socialist as I love the working class/working people of the UK and all those in the World who like us have to sell their labour to live, and perhaps because I have not been brainwashed by nationalism (hard and soft that we are fed) I don’t love one more than the other.
    Of course we will have our share of ‘little people’ who claim somehow they are on the ‘Left’.
    But being a global working citizen is quite liberating
    Yours in international solidarity!

  7. Verity says:

    The author may argue that Sweden has successfully dealt with both the individual emotion of compassion for refugees with the political commitment to welcome entry for all East Europeans seeking alternatives to poor employment prospects arising from low national/government investment and the desperate need for political activity for change. Since the author is full – timer in the liberal establishment, he has the capacity to report that the male to female ratio amongst young adults in Sweden, as a consequence of migration, is 124:100. Are we to conclude that it was formerly so much more unsafe for the migrant young men than for young women? Alternatively could we reasonably project that it is the ambitious young men who are need of safe refuge? Is this a recipe for social stability and integration or is it irrelevant?

    China has a ratio of 118:100 (follow years of the one child programme). The leading Chinese establishment considers this to be a major national demographic problem for its prosperity and future social stability. It is very easy for the Swedish authorities and the UK liberal establishment to indulge in the personal good feeling factor, at the expense of their failure to give detailed attention to the consequences of their high moral stance by never offer any solutions.

    1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      Well put, but common sense really.

  8. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

    We can show our compassion first and foremost by reusing to get involved in America’s mad war mongering; on behalf of it’s corporate sponsors, (remember Truman’s prescient warning back in 1050’s about the growing power and influence of the American military industrial complex.)

    There is also something completely schizophrenic about a country that is engaged in bombing most of the near East and North Africa back to the stone age and in deposing the various stable and established civil governments that existed there previously, crying crocodile tears about the fall out and the violence, barbarism and anarchy that have inevitably resulted from that.

    Also at a time when our own social services are under increasing political attack, the disproportionate demands that such people place on our education and health care which is starting to be rationed, and when social housing and employment are at a premium or is simply unavailable even to British citizens and when the mentally ill, and other disabled people are being thrown onto the streets by the DHSS to live in squalor and die horribly it is hardly appropriate to be importing yet more social problems in addition to our indigenous ones.

    I was a spectator to an incident a few weeks ago where two people, a couple, one of them disabled who had given up their own tenancy to move in with her elderly and frail mother who had subsequently died were then being evicted from the house by the Housing Association without being offered alternative accommodation.

    Right behind them were a family of Romanian migrants complete with a harassed social worker and half a dozen kids who apparently needed and were more entitled to be housed than they were.

    So compassion be damned, (although I’m not lacking in it,) we can’t even meet the current demands on our services without importing even more problems.

    1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      What is really need is a policy of peace, (remember refugees people are an inevitable consequences of the systematic and deliberate destabilization those areas where they originate,) reconciliation and reconstruction.

      it’s going to have to happen sooner or later, so why not sooner.

      Whats stopping that is the profitability of what’s been accurately termed Military Keynesianism, compounded by Disaster capitalism, too often the left and it’s apologists have their own fingers in the pie and expect to profit from all this, particularly the various shabby charities.

  9. David Ellis says:

    The same degenerate left that supports Assad supports the evacuation to Europe of the refugees from the camps in the surrounding countries because it takes the pressure off Assad. It is tyranny’s reward and they welcome these unfortunate people to a life of penury, slavery, slums and racism with the slogan `refugees welcome here’. The cynical left in full view.

  10. swatantra says:

    I say that these problems are Regional problems, with Regional solutions. Their Arab brothers should be doing more to help sort out the ‘refugees’ , there are still more than a million in Jordan s a result of Israel’s actions in ’48 and in ’67. The Turkish Camps are full to the brim, nd Turkey already has a cessionist problem on its hands with its own terrorists and Kurds wanting to split the country. Do we want to see the redrawing of the National Maps in the ME? With a Kurdish State carved out from pieces of Turkey Iraq and Syria? You have to view this whole migration of Peoples in that context. Libya is falling apart and IS fomenting trouble throughout the ME. Something must be done, through the UN, with ground troops sent in including British troops to sort out this goddam awful mess in the ME. The so called refugees and asylum seekers are mere pawns in this game. My compassion is not limitless, and I think that limit has been reached.

  11. Bazza says:

    As well as the West offering sanctuary to those who need it I argued a while ago that the World needed a large tract of land to build a model country/area to take millions to ease the pressure on Europe. The World needs to think big.
    Just watching BBC News tonight (a) was a tragic piece on Syrian crisis then (b) a piece on King Abdullah of Saudi’s economic city in Saudi Arabia – built for 2m but virtually empty. Could be part of the solution to Syrian refugee crisis surely humanity can fund and put (a) and (b) together?

    1. David Ellis says:

      How about simply making Africa and the Middle East habitable. Stop using `free markets’ to allow Western corporations to destroy the local economy, stop pushing millions of peasants and small farmers off the land and stop stealing the qualified workers these countries need far more than we do. End imperialism. Case solved.

      1. Karl Stewart says:

        Never thought I’d ever say this, but I totally agree with that last post by David Ellis. Excellent point.

        1. swatantra says:

          There is no doubt that Africa and other parts of the developing world are still being exploited by the West for minerals and oil; it is a continuation of imperialism in another form, and the peoples are still subject peoples.
          The point about Arabs throwing money at useless projects is well made, instead of making the desert green and schemes for desalination of water to irrigate crops. The Arabs simply don’t know how to spend their new found wealth and use it wisely and raise their peoples living standards. Its spent on arms and vanity projects.
          The point about poaching the skilled workers is also well made, but many will be forced to leave because there aren’t many jobs in their home countries so they look elsewhere.

  12. Bazza says:

    Exellent points from David.
    Yes we need to stop Neo-Liberal capitalist legal theft; global economic imperialism.
    And what many forget for example in Syria is that Assad and his clique own one third of the economy.
    Perhaps this is what is really driving them.
    And of course political hardman Putin supports his crony Assad in Syria as both support oligarchs (Putin allows those who are loyal to him only).
    Interesting piece in the latest New Left Review which shows how the imbecile Yeltsin allowed his daughter to decide who should be billlionares and subsequently legally steal from the Russian people.
    I think politics is simple really; I am a left wing democratic socialist and believe in a grassroots bottom up, participatory approach whilst some on the ‘left’ it could be argued may be bourgeois socialists (like China, N.Korea) – top down, with elite central committees etc. who feel they just need to deposit their ready made programmes into the heads of the working class/working people and then they will deliver socialism FOR us.
    While many of us want a more left wing democratic socialism WITH the working class/working people – globally!
    We have ideas but are not precious about them and welcome them to be tested and possibly improved.
    It breaks my heart when I hear about poverty in the UK and Africa plus every country in the World but we need to be positive.
    It is the labour of the working billions which creates the wealth and makes societies work and globally we need to get this wealth back.
    There are left wing democratic socialist global solutions! International solidarity & X.

  13. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

    If anyone here can get past the typical knee jerk reaction to this being an article in the thrice damned, damabale and never to be sufficiently damned DT, (who did and still do a excellent job or reporting on our MPs abuses of expenses system etc….) this is interesting and pertinent.

    “The number of executives receiving six-figure salaries at Britain’s 14 leading foreign aid charities has risen by nearly 60 per cent, from 19 to 30, over the past three years.”

    Once again the real question is Cui bono ?

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