Migrants and Refugees

It seems ages since I wrote a blog, work and proper writing interfering with Internet broadcasting.

As it is all over the news I thought I would add my views on the current crisis impacting Europe. Refugees and migrants are attempting to escape their own countries and find a hoped for better or safer life in Europe. The European politicians of all persuasions struggle to come up with a suitable soundbite that can demonstrate a caring attitude whilst maintaining their pre-held opinions.  The UK is held up as either not doing enough or doing far too much, whilst facts are mangled and as usual the politicians throw as much mud as possible. There are multiple aspects to this. First some of my definitions:

  • Migrant – an immigrant or transitory person for whatever reason
  • Refugee – someone escaping persecution or seeking safety – can be internal to a nation as many in Syria already are
  • Asylum seeker – Someone who claims that there is a fear of persecution or worse in their own country and thus seeks asylum – but can also be some person hiding out in the Ecuadorian Embassy.
  • Economic migrant – someone seeking a better life for themselves – in and out of UK

The humanitarian urge to do what we can, evidenced in Hungarian people doling out food and water to walking migrants (most may well be refugees), is only one aspect. There needs to be a practical assessment of what can be done realistically. For example Turkey is host to 2 million Syrian refugees escaping the civil war of which ISL or Dash is only one element http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/country.php?id=224

So let’s try and stick to facts – the UK net population increase (official government 2013 figures) due to migration was 300,000.  The vast majority of these 200,000 were from the  EU. These are either family and friends of existing residents or economic migrants searching for work in a growing economy. These are all legal migrants as no one has accurate figures on illegal migrants i.e. persons form outside the EU. The remainder are those that have temporary or permanent rights to stay e.g. students or key workers.

We then have asylum seekers, some key points from http://migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/briefings/migration-uk-asylum

Key points

  • Asylum applications (excluding dependents) rose from 4,256 in 1987 to a peak of 84,130 in 2002. They stood at 24,914 in 2014.
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  • Asylum applicants and their dependents comprised an estimated 8% of net migration in 2013, down from 49% in 2002 but up from 4% in 2010.
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  • In 2014, 59% of asylum applications were initially refused. A majority of refused applicants lodge appeals. In 2014, 28% of appeals were allowed.
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  • Men made up nearly 3 out of 4 (73%) main applicants for asylum in 2014.
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  • In 2014, the UK received 5% of asylum claims made in EU countries (plus Norway and Switzerland), making it the sixth highest recipient of asylum claims.
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The latest estimated migration figure for 2014 is 330,000 of which the asylum seekers make up approx 25,000 so 7.5%

I heard Kent Council state on the radio that the numbers of migrant unaccompanied children under 14 had gone from an average of 240 per year to 720 last year all of whom needed initially foster parents, schooling and support. A huge increase in workload http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-kent-34139364

At the same time we have an alleged housing crisis with organisations like Shelter claiming we need to build 250,000 new homes per year just to keep pace with current population growth http://www.thehomesweneed.org.uk/ The UK’s population is now also growing for many complex reasons see the ONS statistics here but this adds a further 200,000 or so on top of the migration impact. Therefore, we are adding a city population the approximate size of Sheffield to our overall population every year.

On the BBC this morning it was explained that during the 1956 Hungarian uprising the UK took over 40,000 refugees. This has also been discussed as one of the tens of thousands estimates and comparisons for asylum to be offered.Note on 7 Sep the UK Prime Minister announced the number is 20,000

In terms of the overall net migration and population increase numbers this would be a further 10% increase.

The problem for the UK and many other countries is not the humanitarian support. We have the money and the food and water we are after all a rich nation in GDP terms. It is the very practical question of where they are going to live, go to school, get health care. We do not have many large old military bases sitting empty but they can help. Do we want tented villages near ports of entry? Where in the UK will they go. How will they be transported there? For all the claims that we must do something we need to have answers first.

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The West Lothian Question

I have refrained from blogging about the Scottish Independence referendum on the grounds that anything an English person living in England says on the subject will be ignored or treated as either patronising or irrelevant and probably both. Following last night’s debate, between Alex Salmond First Minister, SNP and leader of the campaign for a Yes vote and Alastair Darling former Chancellor of the Exchequer and leader of the campaign for a No vote, I felt it was high time I did write something.

Firstly, I am annoyed that I don’t have a vote. There was an act of Union between Scotland and England, Wales and then Ireland and yet only one part of the union is getting a say on the subject as to whether it should continue. This does not seem to be democratic to me. Of course there is no telling what the voting in the rest of the United Kingdom might deliver. Perhaps they might vote Yes!

Secondly, the talk is that if there is a No vote (current poll prediction is 56% for No), Scotland will be offered further devolved powers. In this scenario what about England? We have devolved powers from Westminster to the Northern Irish and Welsh Assemblies and a greater range of devolved powers to the Scottish Parliament. Scotland has always had it’s own legal system for example. Despite current devolved powers Scottish (and Welsh and Northern Irish) MPs and Peers have continued to vote in Parliament on matters that are devolved to the individual nations and principalities. This is the famous West Lothian question and has not been addressed by any of the political parties. As part of any further devolution settlement can we at least address this undemocratic system. As all MPs represent geographical constituencies having no votes on particular subject like NHS in England would only be fair in exchange for devolved powers. Given the ability of any TV programme to count and handle millions of votes in a TV talent contest in a few broadcast minutes it seems inconceivable that our elected representatives cannot agree out of 650 MPs who can vote on any given subject.

Thirdly, demographics matter and one of the comments I heard today was on the relative voting power of London and Scotland. London has 73 constituencies serving a population of 6.5 million living there, whilst Scotland has 59 MPs for 5.3 million. This is out of 650 MPs. The ratio is approximately the same 89,000 eligible voters per MP. Yet London MPs cannot vote on devolved matters but 59 Scottish MPs do when it does not impact their own constituents.

Relative economies are interesting as well. London as 22% of the UKs GDP of $2.5 Trillion dollars (approx $550 billion). Scotland has $214 billion of that. London’s share of the UK minus Scotland would therefore go up to nearly 24% and the runt of the UK would drop to $2.3 Trillion. These figure are I’m sure disputed by the SNP and Yes campaign.

In terms of a democratic and economic deficit it is London that is being ignored and on a wider scale England. Scotland has no prescription charges (nor does Wales) and no University tuition fees for residents. According to the ONS here, Scotland receives £10,152 per head of population of Public Sector spending compared to England’s £8,529. Again who has a democratic and economic deficit? It is not Scotland.

In the end as with all independence movements around the world the vote (at least there is one) will be down to the Scottish voters who turn out and tick a Yes or No vote. In the last Scottish Parliament election in 2011 turnout was 50.4%. I would hope that more than half of the Scottish residents on the electoral role would bother to vote in this referendum, after all the SNP has changed voting rules to allow persons over the age of 16 to vote. Let’s say that the turnout is 100% of the 4 million on the electoral roll; therefore, each campaign needs a minimum of 2,000,001 votes to win. Out of nearly 64 million people in the UK it’s future could be decided by less than 3.2% of the population. How’s that for democracy?