European refugee numbers of Biblical proportions

February 3, 2016 by  

The unregistered mass of refugees at Calais is ‘of Biblical proportions,’ said Michael Neuman, Director of Studies at Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) speaking in Glasgow tonight.  He was supported by John Wilkes, Chief Executive of the Scottish Refugee Council .

From left: Artist Alice Myers who is publishing a book of photographs on the Jungle at Calais, John Wilkes, Michael Neuman, Fuad Alakbarov, Professor Alison Phipps, Fayrouz Kraish

From left: Artist Alice Myers who is publishing a book of photographs on the Jungle at Calais, John Wilkes, Michael Neuman, Fuad Alakbarov, Professor Alison Phipps, Fayrouz Kraish

Michael Neuman commended the humanitarian work being done, ‘mainly by volunteers.’ But admitted it took MSF a long time to realise the French Government was planning to do nothing about upwards of 6000 people gathered in Calais in the ‘new Jungle’  since March 2015.

He said the French in Calais were ‘worse than the Russians in Chechenya’ in the way they treated people. Part of the problem was the absence of any legal channel to Europe open to any of the refugees or migrants.  With more than 4 million people having fled from Syria, almost 8 million displaced within Syria and an estimated 12 million needing humanitarian aid in that country, he said the vast majority of people in Calais were refugees.  But because of the lack of any system of registration, people fell into a ‘refugee’ or ‘migrant’ trap.

‘This has been an uncomfortable experience and a deeply learning one for us at MSF,’ he said.  He said MSF aimed to create a new camp. ‘People cannot continue to live in the mud. And those who have family in different countries across Europe don’t want to stay in Calais. They want to join their families.’

John Wilkes, agreed the refugee crisis in Europe was of ‘Biblical proportions.’  But pointed out the number of refugees  was only  2% of the population of Europe.  He said the lack of a co-ordinated response and countries not stepping up to the mark to do anything had exacerbated the situation.  When asked about the Human Rights of children in particular, he said there was an international framework of legal commitments but Governments need to be challenged to implement them.

Fuad Alakbarov, a political activist who also addressed the packed meeting, said: ‘This is a crisis for humanity. It saddens me to see what is happening in Calais. It is an international disgrace.’ He and volunteers from Scotland Against Racism and the Scottish Campaign to Welcome Refugees, took aid to the camp at Calais. Among the many people they talked to was a 12 year old boy who had lost both parents crossing the Mediterranean. ‘He didn’t know what country he was in and didn’t know where to go.’

Fayrouz Kraish was one of the team who visited last year. ‘People are dying because the borders are closed,’ she said.  A nine year old orphan whom she met on that visit has close relatives in the UK but he has not yet been granted leave to join them. ‘I plan to go out again soon to see what is happening to him,’ she told this website afterwards.

The information evening was organised by the Glasgow Centre for International Development  (GCID) and the Glasgow Refugee, Asylum and Migration Network (GRAMNet) Professor John Briggs, Clerk of Senate at the University of Glasgow and Vice Principal, is convenor of GCID and Professor Alison Phipps, Professor of Languages and Intercultural Studies at the University is Convenor of GRAMNet.  They introduced the speakers and hosted the event in the Sir Charles Wilson lecture theatre.

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