Behind the headlines

Is there an English Channel ‘migrant crisis’?

Five crises that put the British “crisis” in perspective

Last month, just over 230 people crossed the English Channel to reach the UK by boat. Panicked headlines have followed: “Migrant crisis out of control”, “Border Force vessels brought back to patrol Channel”, “'Send in the navy!'”. The government has declared this a ‘major incident’ and a huge amount of attention has been granted with calls for enforced Border Patrol to prevent any more people attempting the journey.

Here are five crises that put the situation in perspective:

1. 7,000 people arrived in Greece each day in October 2015

In the first week of October in 2015, an average of 7,000 people fleeing war and persecution arrived on the islands in Greece every day. Many came from Syria: their homes, friends and belongings lost to the war. In comparison, since November, an average of seven people per day have arrived in the UK via the English Channel. The “major incident” on UK shores does not look so major when you compare it to the 5,000 stuck on Moria on the island of Lesbos in terrible conditions today. These numbers need not represent a crisis for a wealthy and stable region like Europe, but in the absence of a functioning system to share responsibility, frontline countries like Greece are left to deal with the situation alone.

A young boy sits outside a tent in Dafyana settlement in Jordan where families live in harsh desert conditions. Photo: Timea Fauszt/IRC

2. 85% of refugees are hosted in developing countries

While Europe hosts just 11% of the world’s refugees, the vast majority are being hosted by developing countries, often without enough resources. Refugees are frequently unable to earn money to support their families, to access proper healthcare or to have somewhere permanent to live. 600,000 Syrians have found refuge in neighbouring Jordan, a country that has issues with water scarcity, high unemployment rates and oversubscribed schools. And in Lebanon alone, a country roughly the same size as Wales, a third of the population are refugees.

3. Stuck in detention centres in lawless Libya

In Libya, thousands of refugees and asylum seekers are facing unimaginable horror inside detention centres. They’ve often made extremely dangerous journeys through the Sahara desert in the hope of finding a better life or to escape criminal gangs and people smugglers. Once they arrive, they are trapped: a UN report revealed that indiscriminate torture, rape and killings were commonplace inside the detention centres.

Storm clouds gather over Kutupalong Refugee Camp, home to some 700,000 Rohingya refugees who have fled Myanmar. Photo: Timothy Nesmith/IRC

4. The world’s largest refugee camp

The Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh has created the  world’s largest refugee camp after 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar in 2017 following what has been described as “textbook ethnic cleansing”. The violence against them caused the largest movement of refugees since the Rwandan genocide in 1994. In just one month, half a million Rohingya men, women and children fled to Bangladesh in search of safety. Now nearly one million Rohingya refugees live in overcrowded camps, where disease is spreading at emergency levels.  

A child receives treatment at a health centre in Sana'a, Yemen where 5 million children are on the brink of starvation. Photo: Kellie Ryan/IRC

5. Unable to flee: the war in Yemen

And we cannot forget the world’s largest humanitarian crisis in Yemen, where millions of people are on the brink of starvation and 79% of the population is in need of emergency relief and humanitarian assistance. The war in Yemen has left millions without access to essential health care and at risk from preventable diseases including cholera which has killed thousands of people.

The real crisis

The real crisis is political. As long as there is war, people will continue to flee. If governments avoid offering safe and legal routes, people will continue to be forced to put their lives at risk simply to find refuge. Whether that’s climbing into a small boat to cross a major ferry path on the English Channel or clinging onto the side of a jeep hurtling through the Sahara desert: we must find a way to provide people with the safe harbour they deserve.

How you can help

We’re on the ground responding to all of the crises included in this article, from our vital mobile health teams in Yemen to providing shelter to refugees in Jordan and cash relief to families in Lebanon: if you give today your donation will be doubled, making it go twice as far to fund this life-saving work.