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Frances Perraudin, Monday 10 August 2015, The Guardian (UK)
Senior Labour figures accuse Philip Hammond of scaremongering after he claims Europe ‘can’t protect itself’ if forced to take millions of migrants
The foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, has weighed in to the debate over migration with some of the government’s strongest language yet, claiming millions of marauding African migrants pose a threat to the EU’s standard of living and social structure. Senior Labour figures responded by accusing Hammond of scaremongering after he claimed Europe “can’t protect itself” if it has to take in millions of migrants from Africa.
Speaking to the BBC while visiting Singapore on Sunday, Hammond said: “The gap in standards of living between Europe and Africa means there will always be millions of Africans with the economic motivation to try to get to Europe.”
He said: “So long as there are large numbers of pretty desperate migrants marauding around the area, there always will be a threat to the tunnel security. We’ve got to resolve this problem ultimately by being able to return those who are not entitled to claim asylum back to their countries of origin.”
Hammond said EU laws meant migrants could be “pretty confident” that after setting foot on EU soil they would not be returned to their country of origin. “Now that is not a sustainable situation because Europe can’t protect itself, preserve its standard of living and social infrastructure if it has to absorb millions of migrants from Africa.”
Three of the candidates to be Labour’s next leader condemned Hammond’s use of language. Shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, described it as “alarmist and unhelpful”, and Liz Kendall said there should be no place for dehumanising language in the debate. Jeremy Corbyn said Hammond’s comments were part of a pattern of language designed to whip up prejudice and hostility.
Hammond’s intervention is the latest evidence that the government is heightening its anti-immigration rhetoric in response to the migrant crisis in Calais, but its use of language surrounding the issue has already led ministers into controversy. In July, rights groups and politicians rounded on David Cameron when he told ITV news that there was a “swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean” to seek a better life in Britain.
Labour leadership candidate Andy Burnham criticised the prime minister’s phrasing, tweeting: “Cameron calling Calais migrants a ‘swarm’ is nothing short of disgraceful. Confirms there’s no dog-whistle these Bullingdon Boys won’t blow.”
When it was announced last week that Britain was to fund an extra 100 border guards at the Channel tunnel terminal on the French side, Hammond said the government had “got a grip” on the Calais migrant crisis, but over the weekend the prime minister appeared to contradict the foreign secretary, saying: “We have done a lot in recent days to improve the situation but there’s a lot more to do.”
An estimated 5,000 migrants have gathered in Calais this summer, with hundreds attempting to get on to shuttle trains or freight lorries to travel through the tunnel to the UK. At least nine people have died trying to cross to Britain during the crisis, and it was reported last week that a Sudanese man walked almost the entire length of the 31-mile tunnel from France before being apprehended by Kent police close to the exit at Folkestone.
More than 120,000 migrants have arrived in Greece so far this year, including 50,000 in July alone. About 90,000 have travelled to Italy by sea so far this year, after it received 170,000 in 2014, according to the UN refugee agency. Many of the newcomers then look to move swiftly to northern Europe, including to England. Germany has more people applying for asylum than any other EU country and is this year expecting to receive more than 400,000 applications, more than double the number in 2014.
Greece’s prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, said the country’s infrastructure could not handle the thousands of people arriving on its shores from war-torn areas such as Syria and Afghanistan, and that it needed help from the EU. “Now is the time to see if the EU is the EU of solidarity or an EU that has everyone trying to protect their borders,” said the leader of the leftwing Syriza party after a meeting with ministers on Friday.
The shadow foreign secretary, Hilary Benn, said the government needed to demonstrate responsibility and international leadership, and that Hammond should “think more carefully about what he says”. “Those fleeing Syria are desperate refugees from a country being torn apart by war,” he added.
Candidates for the Labour leadership rounded on Hammond’s remarks. Cooper said: “As NGOs have pointed out, many of those crossing the Mediterranean are fleeing a terrible conflict and humanitarian crisis in Syria. Yet Britain is doing too little to help address the European refugee issue. We need practical responses to help refugees, stop people smuggling, and prevent illegal travelling – and European countries need to work together to implement them, not just resort to divisive statements instead.”
Corbyn urged politicians to “explicitly recognise the contribution of Africans and other migrants to our society, not speak in these disgraceful terms.” Kendall said: “The Tories should focus on policy solutions not ramping up the rhetoric. We should not lose sight of the human tragedy these stories represent and Britain should always take its fair share of refugees and asylum seekers.”
British employers who give jobs to illegal immigrants will be hit with the “full force” of government, immigration minister James Brokenshire said last night. He said the government was determined to act against businesses that were denying work to British nationals and driving down wages. “Rogue employers who give jobs to illegal migrants are denying work to UK citizens and legal migrants and helping drive down wages,” Brokenshire said.
“Experience tells us that employers who are prepared to cheat employment rules are also likely to breach health and safety rules and pay insufficient tax. That’s why our new approach will be to use the full force of government machinery to hit them from all angles and take away the unfair advantage enjoyed by those who employ illegal migrants.”