I, along with most of Europe, have watched on as we see increasing numbers of people fleeing their home countries and seeking refuge in the Western World. Up until now I haven’t made any comment because there are plenty of others who have offered far better analysis and opinion than I could have done (see here, here, here, here, here and here among others). Frankly, there are a limited number of lines one can take on this issue: either let them all in, let none in or let a proportion in. Each of these views have been presented reasonably forcefully elsewhere.
There has been a lot of talk over whether we refer to this as a migrant or a refugee crisis. For what it’s worth, I don’t think it is either. It is an asylum seeker crisis. A refugee is somebody who has applied for asylum and been granted leave to stay. A migrant is somebody moving for reasons other than fear of persecution in their home country. All the people coming, detained in camps or seeking to move are trying to claim asylum in Europe. None of them have automatically been granted leave to remain, so they cannot be classed as refugees yet. None of them claim to be coming for reasons other than seeking refugee status, so they cannot be deemed economic migrants yet either. They are uniformly asylum seekers. If we grant them asylum, they will be refugees. The terms migrant and refugee have been bandied around as emotive terms to underscore particular predisposed views. The people in question are, however, undoubtedly and factually asylum seekers.
We are reasonably well acquainted with the issues surrounding asylum in Oldham. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) tells us, at the end of 2014, there were 36,383 pending asylum cases in the UK. Greater Manchester housed around 4,000 of those asylum seekers and Oldham in particular received c. 600. My own church has a significant number of asylum seekers and refugees in attendance and are reaching c. 5% of the Oldham asylum seeker population. So, though I am no expert, I am aware of many of the issues surrounding asylum and refugee status.
Having said all that, I am firmly in the camp that says we should welcome more. The biblical imperative strongly suggests, if not demands, we allow more asylum seekers into this country. Any claims of being “swamped” or too much strain being placed on public services do not hold up to scrutiny. For example, in Oldham we have a population of c. 220,000 people, of which 600 are asylum seekers. That amounts to around quarter of a percent (0.27%) of the local population. This is in line with the national level which stands at 0.24% of pending asylum cases. The Greater Manchester region has c. 2.7m people of which c. 4000 are asylum seekers. This amounts to 0.0015% of the regional population. Though they are disproportionately spread throughout the region (1), the boroughs that house a larger proportion per population are in line with the national average and the region as a whole is well below the national average.
I am sympathetic to the argument that the burden ought to be spread. Just as we are seeking a joined up approach throughout Europe, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to look for a joined up approach across the UK. There is a good case to be made for asking each of those in the public eye if they are willing to take refugees into their own local areas or, as some have been suggesting, into their homes. If they agree, they truly mean it whereas a refusal is nothing short of demanding others meet the costs and burdens of doing that which will salve their own consciences from a distance (2). I can see why some are frustrated that Rochdale, which houses 1 in 41 of all asylum seekers in the country, supports more than the whole of the South East of England, covering 8 counties and housing only 441. Nonetheless, even the disproportionate placement of asylum seekers in particular areas amounts to a minuscule proportion of the overall population and can hardly be said to be a huge drain on resources even in the most burdened areas such as Rochdale and Bolton.
One of the central problems is that parts of the asylum system has been farmed out to private companies. G4S and Serco run a number of detention centres and are often involved in the placement of asylum seekers housing. As such, these companies are inclined to place asylum seekers in the cheapest possible housing making the greatest amount of profit on the contacts taken out with the government. It is little wonder that Rochdale and Oldham carry a larger number of asylum seekers than the South East because housing in and around London, with an ever-extending commuter belt, is astronomically expensive. The asylum seeker has no choice in where they are placed and there is a “no choice” policy that means they can be placed anywhere outside of the South East region. Typically this is in places with cheap, or “hard to let”, housing.
None of this information is new or different to anything anyone has put out before. The reason I decided to comment was because I saw this on twitter:
Wenger confirms Arsenal will donate £1 for every ticket sold vs Stoke to the refugee crisis http://t.co/sQBiRkndG4 pic.twitter.com/rB7gvcWFGL
— Indy Football (@IndyFootball) September 10, 2015
//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsWhilst on the face of it, this seems very nice it hardly scratches the surface. What is even more interesting is that even if the Emirates Stadium were full to capacity, this would raise a maximum of £60,000. When one considers the millions clubs spend on players each season without any thought whatsoever, this seems pitiful. The Manchester United manager just claimed that £58.8m on a new player very few people know much about was “ridiculous”.
This got me to thinking about a more valuable approach. What if, rather than blowing astronomical sums of money on people who kick a piece of leather around a field for 90 minutes, the Premier League enacted a one year transfer embargo? What if each club promised to donate one year’s transfer budget to support the refugee crisis? Rather than paying inflated wages and transfer fees for a few economic migrants who do very little work, why don’t we apply the transfer budget of all 20 clubs toward the refugee crisis? Just this year that move would have raised £860m. Considering most asylum seekers are given £30 per week plus a small room in an unlettable house with several other asylum seekers, the rent for which couldn’t demand more than £50 per week (and that’s being generous), think of how many asylum seekers we could support with £860m.
Now this plan would have multiple benefits. It would curb exorbitant transfer fees. It would mean that football clubs necessarily focus on developing youth (at least for one year) rather than buying in foreign talent and would benefit both club and country. But best of all, it would provide nearly £1bn to help address the asylum seeker crisis. If such a plan could be extended across Europe (given that we are supposedly attempting a joined up campaign on this), there would be billions available in aid for those desperately seeking a new beginning. And very few people would lose out in the process. Even the footballers who might have been transferred will still rake in their astronomical wages for another year at the same old club and can push through that iniquitous “big money move” the following year if they so desire.
This is why I thought I would write something. I’ve got nothing to add to the crisis itself but I think I might have just hit upon a decent way of sharing some of the financial burden.
- The Borough of Manchester houses just under 800 asylum seekers, 200 more than the Borough of Oldham, yet Manchester has a population of 515,000, nearly double Oldham’s 220,000. Stockport supports only 100 (pop. 287,000) and Trafford 73 (pop. 232,000).
- Though I don’t agree with the whole article, this particular argument is made by Peter Hitchen here.