European Parliament with a crisis on its hands

wheat_chaff08:09 Tuesday 1st September 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

DOTTY MCLEOD: You can call them refugees. You can call them migrants. According to figures from the United Nations, 300,000 people have risked their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe so far this year. Thousands more are attempting to get to the Continent by road, often hidden in lorries. There was a story at the tail end of last week of more than 70 people who died in the back of a lorry trying to get across the Hungarian border. Many of these people are fleeing conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan. So should we be doing more to help? It’s a question that will certainly be top of the agenda as Members of the European Parliament return to work this week after the summer break. Vicky Ford is the Conservative MEP for the East of England and is based here in Cambridgeshire. Vicky good morning.
VICKY FORD: Yes good morning, and indeed I’m going straight from here off to catch the Eurostar to go there this week. I know this will be top of the agenda when the MEPs get back together, and there also is going to be more meetings of the Home Secretary and her equivalents across Europe next week, and then Prime Ministers. The situation is completely unprecedented in my lifetime. The Syrian crisis means there’s eleven million displaced people in Syria. Three million of them living outside Syria. Many of them desperate to get away from the horror that’s happening in their own countries. So I think we need to have a mixed approach. We need to have compassion for true refugees, true asylum seekers, and help support them with the horror that they’re fleeing. But also we need to have a very firm approach with the economic migrants that we cannot support both. So we need to make sure that where people are not asylum seekers, when they’re not refugees from these desperate situations, that they can be returned quickly and safely. And also a very firm …
DOTTY MCLEOD: But here’s the thing Vicky. Here’s the thing. How do you choose between? How do you tell between? Because in places like Calais at the moment all process has broken down. So what do you do?

VICKY FORD: Actually the situation in Calais has got a bit better. As you’ll have seen there’s now much more of a process and control going on. The French were being very very slow earlier in the summer, not processing cases. We need to have cases processed and very quickly heard, and that’s why there’s now a better centre in Calais, and more needs to be done there at these very hotspots where people come in. But also for example in Germany they’ve been very supportive of people who’ve come in from Syria, but saying we cannot take the economic migrants from the Balkans, where it’s not a case of fleeing horror. And the other thing that is really important is more work to crack down on traffickers. So for example in Austria where this dreadful disaster happened with the people in the lorry, how horrifying was that? The Austrian police are now starting spot searches, a lot of the lorries coming across the borders. It is enormously difficult, because it is so unprecedented. But we need to make sure that we keep the compassion, which I am so proud that Britain has shown over many many decades towards refugees, and that their cases are heard as quickly as possible, whilst also trying to make sure that we take firm action against those criminal gangs who are people trafficking.
DOTTY MCLEOD: You say compassion, but it looks very much, if you read any newspaper online, and if you read the comments below any article about migrants, it looks very much like a lot of people’s compassion is simply running out. Here’s one that I just picked off a newspaper website last night on an article about British Government policy on immigration. It says: “The West should station gunboats in the Med. and warn boats that if they don’t turn around they will open fire. Sink them. Lots of them. While we let them, they will keep on pouring in and pollute Europe.” What do you think has led to people feeling that way towards these people?
VICKY FORD: I don’t feel that way, and many of the people who are emailing me now are saying, please can you make sure that we have that compassionate here(?) OK. So the UK has sent out a naval vessels in order to try and help support those who are stuck on these boats. OK. But at the same point we’re trying to stop the people traffickers who are putting on boats in the first place. And that is actually one of the reasons why when we now see more people on the roads, is because we’ve made it more difficult for people to get on those very dangerous boat journeys. OK. So there is a changing developing situation. It is totally unprecedented as I said. And it is many millions of people. The root cause of this is what is happening in Syria and in ISIS, and the true horror that people are fleeing from there. The other part of this puzzle that we’re putting together is trying to put more support into international aid, which the UK has always been very generous with its international aid. We’re one of the few countries that makes that strong commitment and lives up to its international aid commitments. And that’s to help those poor countries build their own economies, so we see fewer of the economic migrants. It’s a long term strategy, and it is a puzzle, putting it all together with such unprecedented numbers of people.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Vicky Ford, thank you for joining me this morning. One of the Eastern Region’s Conservative MEPs, and straight off to catch the Eurostar. It is the first day back at school for MEPs in Europe.