If I sit in my office at my Mac and turn my head to the right, I can see a shelf dedicated to tracts and essays on political philosophy. These are relics from my uni days that I can’t quite get rid of. They remind me that once I read these books and understood them.  And one of these books has perhaps the most oft quoted (and frequently misquoted) phrase that yet seems somewhat apt in describing the world today.

Thomas Hobbes, in his great work Leviathan (published 1651) looked at the world and statecraft, and concluded that there was a need for a social contract and rule by a strong leader and government. Because without this leader, or sovereign, mankind (yes, he was of his time) lives in a bleak state of nature that consists of

“….continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short…..” Leviathan, Chapter 13.

This great work has, of course, far more to it than just that one phrase, but how relevant that phrase feels to today’s crisis areas.

Last week in London at the Support Syria donor conference Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey spoke of how they could not continue taking refugees from Syria. But just a few days later there are tens of thousands of Syrians at the borders of both Jordan and Turkey waiting to be admitted to those countries, and particularly so on the borders of Turkey with the fighting in Aleppo increasing in its savagery.  Indeed, there may be an even higher figure than tens of thousands waiting to enter Turkey.

Meanwhile, the London donor conference committed $10 billion to Syria but as Bridget Kendall says in the clip here, saying that aid will be given is not the same as delivering it.

But what can be done, apart from the blindingly obvious, that the war in Syria needs to stop.   Is donating money to neighbouring states and the refugee camps the only thing that concerned states can do to help Syria? It seems that this is how Britain, or let’s put it this way, the Cameron government, sees it.

But the money will take months to filter through, and any jobs that refugees might be allowed to do in these neighbouring countries will also take time to develop. In the meantime the refugees will continue to pour out of Syria – it is an imploding country. It is a place of continual fear and of violent death for many in Syria – they will continue to come.

What to do? First, there are things that could be done other than pouring promises of money onto a sceptical audience. See Patrick Kingsley for his suggestions, which are:

  1. Europe and the rest of the world need to take more responsibility in resettling and taking refugees. There needs to be defined coherent and credible resettlement so that refugees in the camps can see that they don’t need to come to Greece by sea and risk drowning.
  2. Europe needs to divide up the numbers of refugees in a more equal fashion rather than nearly all of them going to Germany and Sweden.
  3. The US could take more refugees and so could Saudi Arabia.
  4. Other refugees from countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq should not be forgotten – they too need resettlement and refuge.

But how about instead of considering how many refugees Europe could take, we look at whether states have a right to exclude?

Is there a right to exclude people? States are bound by obligations: there is both a duty to admit refugees and a duty not to discriminate on grounds of race, gender and religion. But in addition, and perhaps, as a minimum, states have a right to protect key national goods such as: social stability, civil rights, democracy and communal solidarity of the native population. And if a state excludes people/refugees this exclusion has to be, should be, justified otherwise it locks people into violent regimes and limits people’s lives.

But really states do what they damn well please. Some, like Germany and Sweden, take many and some, like Britain, take very few. And still the refugees keep coming. And they keep coming because there is little hope of any life in the refugee camps. And they keep coming because of the barrel bombing and fighting. And they keep coming despite the crumbling of the Schengen agreement (established in 1985 whereby 22 out of the 28 European Union members have abolished passport controls). Now, borders are being fenced and Greece is being told to hold onto and/or push back refugees. The treatment of these people is harsh – I hope the politicians won’t mind being judged on their attitudes at some point.

What to do? It’s important, I think, to not be constantly ruminating on how dark the world is today. There is light. There is hope. And some of this light can be found in the small voluntary groups that have been set up to help the refugees arriving in Greece, and arriving, and then living, in the squalid camps in Calais and Dunkirk – these groups are beacons of hope.

If I were younger I’d be out there in Calais, no doubt, but as I know that’s not for me at my age – have to acknowledge that – I think the answer, for the moment, for those of us who are not swayed by the disgraceful rags of newspapers like the Sun and the Daily Mail, is that we can support the voluntary work on the borders by joining the various groups such as Calais (UK) http://www.calaid.co.uk or Refuge Aid Miksaliste http://refugeeaidmiksaliste.rs which works in Serbia.

Or Hummingbird Project – Calais and Dunkirk – Aid and Solidarity https://www.facebook.com/Hummingbirduk/

Or Medecins Sans Frontieres http://www.msf.org.uk or doctors of the world.org.uk https://www.doctorsoftheworld.org.uk

There are many more voluntary groups. I knit scarves for a great little group called Hats, Scarves & Mittens (look it up on Facebook) that sends knitted hats, scarves, socks, mittens and gloves to Syria, Greece and Calais.

And above all, we can advocate, read and defend. Get that correct information out there. Look at, for instance, the New Internationalist, or go to its website.

Be aware. Be mindful. Be responsive. I feel nothing but utter disgust for the Cameron government’s pathetic attempts to appease, I suppose, some genuine concerns about doing more for refugees – really? Do you know what is going on?  If not, find out!

And then, light a candle, and knit a sock rather than rage all the time. It’s a waste of energy – but we can do more, we are better than this.

That’s all for now


P.S. Next blog, which won’t be out for some time, will look at Germany and their response to this crisis of our time. And at some point I aim to unpick what exactly is happening in this civil war soup.

P.P.S Please note that the points contained in the paragraph beginning “Is there a right to exclude people?’ have come from notes taken whilst listening to the LSE podcast A Right to Migrate?



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9 thoughts on “How many refugees can Europe take?

  • 17th April 2016 at 10:36

    dear Penny
    Thank you so much for this. I totally agree with all you say, particularly about finding out what is really happening and not believing rubbish out of Sun & Daily Mail.
    I also think about heading off to Calais or Greece and feel at 65 a bit too old but my son is out there, working with small groups of volunteers to share beacons of hope.
    And shame on our governments – I live in France and am equally ashamed to be British and living with a short-sighted, self-centred bunch of politicians failing to ‘run” the country.

    • 25th April 2016 at 07:59

      Hi Corinne Thank you so much for visiting this blog and commenting. And very good to hear your son has volunteered. I think we can only do what we can do, and at my age I found that my neighbour was crocheting hats for refugees (takes her precisely 2 hours to do one hat!). She sends approximately 50 hats every month to a group called simply Hats, Scarves and Mittens (all details on Facebook) and the person in charge sends pallets of knitting and crocheting to places like Calais but also Greece, Serbia and Syria. So I took up knitting and so far I’m on my 26th scarf – now it’s coming up to summer I might switch to teddies although I’m a little apprehensive as they’re quite fiddly.

      I think Parliament is debating the Dubs amendment today – on admitting unaccompanied children – what a disgrace this government is. History will judge. But all praise to Dubs, a survivor of kindertransport and a good man. People like him plus all the volunteers (including your son) restores ones faith in humanity somewhat.

  • 22nd May 2016 at 19:43

    Delighted to find you, courtesy of the wonderful Catherine of atypical60. Your style blog and this one lift the spirits and inspire the efforts of this 71 year old American cousin.

    Our charity shops can’t hold a candle to yours, but our consignment stores help us retired women keep current.

    • 25th May 2016 at 07:45

      Hello Sharon, so glad to hear you like both blogs. This one, as you can see is more serious and I don’t post on it nearly as much as I’d like to. But the reason I’ve set it up, is so I can write about the issues that challenge our society and world. We live in difficult times but there are people out there working to halt the suffering and challenge the scaremongers, and I try and keep track of this, otherwise you’d just go under. Take for instance, the Syrian refugee crisis, I know there are many people out there helping these refugees on their route from Syria through Europe. And it’s these people I admire and not our politicians I’m afraid. Actually, I’ll try not to generalise (!) there are some politicians that are fine, it’s those that dehumanise, I can’t abide – funnily enough, will be writing a bit about that in my next post on frugalfashionshopper Anyway, great to meet you!

  • 25th July 2016 at 07:39

    Hi Penny,
    I am glad you are writing about refugees in Europe. Being an expat hailing from Romford I feel shocked and even embarrassed by recent developments over there, so it is good to hear from someone with perspective who has their finger on the pulse so to speak. The Brexit decision crept up on me while I wasn’t really watching, having developed over time an aversion to “the news”.
    Many Australians would like to go back to the “white Australia” policy and stop accepting refugees in general and muslims in particular. The irony is rich considering that with the exception of the aborigines, we are all immigrants. We are not doing our share either.
    Perhaps like you I feel there is little I can do to change anything. Now I’m off to join my local knitting group where there will no doubt be a few refugees who we can help to make feel welcome.

    • 25th July 2016 at 15:55

      Actually, Penny is doing something rather grand in that she is revealing how she sees the situation so that we who are not in the midst of it can learn from her posts. In teling us how you see it from your own perspective in Australia is also clearing up questions for people who follow Penny’s blogs. I thank you both for the change you do bring about.

    • 25th July 2016 at 16:15

      Yes, I’ve read about the Australian stance towards refugees and illegal immigrants – it appears quite harsh to an outsider. We could all do more and the EU has been very tardy in getting its act together. The UK is apparently taking in 20,000 over 5 years – not good enough, imho. If I was younger I’d be out there campaigning and even going to Calais, but knitting was my way. And the blog of course. Thanks so much for reading the blog, Maddy, we live in difficult times and it’s good to communicate with others from around the world 🙂

  • 4th September 2016 at 11:21

    Thanks so much for combining your two interests and coming to Brighton to buy some clothes which will go towards Calais Action. It was lovely to meet you.

    • 4th September 2016 at 11:49

      I will definitely feature the three items on the frugalfashionshopper blog that I swished from you – was lovely to meet you too!


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