‘They talk about what makes Britain great. How we are morally right, the people who will do the right thing. Well that should be helping others in need, setting an example to the world – not running away at the first sign of trouble.’ - John Barnes Crew for Calais is one of the charities sending volunteers to the refugee camp to do a little to help this enormous human crisis. I went to Calais several months ago and am returning later this summer, this time with the charity. This is not only a very tragic situation but one that is, much like the paths refugees are taking to reach Europe, constantly changing. We must keep talking about it, researching it and finding new ways to help. Alongside the other blogs that are starting up for Crew for Calais, I’m going to be contributing with my experiences in the camp as well as wider relevant topics. In this post I want to focus on the refugee crisis in conjunction with the EU referendum. Coverage of the crisis has dipped and swelled at different points over the last two years, as it became the big news story of 2015. The current focus in relation to migration is, of course, the referendum. Pro and anti-immigration comments have been slung about this week and the topic has been talked about in particular because of Brexit’s- or rather Farage’s- poster showing masses of refugees in Slovenia, the tone and level of distaste of which has been compared to Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech. When looking at the photographs of a powerful white British politician standing in front of this sea of non-white faces seemingly swarming towards us, it is very difficult to see this as anything other than racist. Last week Chris Thorpe sat on the Royal Court stage for six hours reading out top comments on newspaper articles about migrants and refugees in his durational performance, The Milk of Human Kindness. In demonstrating extreme lack of compassion shown for those fleeing war, terror and poverty, Thorpe shows the worst of us, and how the press encourages it. It is particularly relevant in a climate of xenophobic comments the Leave campaign continues to feed us. Andrew Haydon wrote of the performance, ‘you have to be quite alert to stop yourself- in familiar surroundings and watching a familiar performer- just defaulting to agree with whatever’s being said on stage.’ It is this idea of passively agreeing with what we read, hear or see that has been raised at an extreme level this week. Thorpe’s performance came a few days before the murder of MP Jo Cox. (It has been argued that her tragic death should not be politicised, but it is difficult to avoid when the act was committed, at least in part, for political reasons.) In a radio programme on LBC, James O’Brien fiercely articulated the idea that it is conceivable that a man could kill a person as a result of the atmosphere of hatred we are currently being bathed in. He notes the ridiculousness of this anti-immigration feeling. ‘We want our country back from who? We want our country back from when? We want it back from the 21st century do we, we want it back from a world in which the movement of people and the movement of populations is as commonplace as the movement of product?’ Both Haydon and O’Brien suggest how highly and easily we are influenced by what we see around us. The point has been raised multiple times that we should be voting on the 23rd June not for ourselves but for our children, an idea that footballer John Barnes has welcomed and this morning wrote a passionate article about why he’s voting remain. ‘Britain has always told the world that being British is about the humanity, compassion and moral fortitude that we have. All great things that we are supposed to have spread across the world. A leave vote now says that we don’t really care about anyone else […] Leave says it doesn’t want to stop immigration entirely – it only wants people that can help us, that have the qualifications and skills that we need. But what about the other people who are displaced or disenfranchised? Don’t we have a responsibility to help them too, especially when they are fleeing countries whose problems we have helped to create, such as Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq?’ We should not just be voting for our children but for the children of these refugees. ‘We cannot just wash our hands of the situation,’ Barnes continues. ‘We are the first on the frontline to go into countries to liberate people in the name of freedom – that’s what we’ve claimed. And now, all of a sudden, they need our help and we turn them away. Yet the rest of Europe stands ready to help. Why are we the first to jump ship?’ We shouldn’t be turning these people away, we should be helping them. We need to be open to the world and show compassion to those who need it, rather than simply those who we need, and that the best way of doing this is remaining in the EU. Many voting Leave are doing so the hope of curbing immigration, but even if the government were to further restrict who legally enters Britain, people running away from unimaginable fear will not be deterred by one more closed border. No matter what the result of this referendum, immigration and the migrant and refugee crisis will not just go away. I hope that we can fight the hatred with kindness and logic, and work together to make a better EU, rather than, as Barnes says, ‘jump ship’, and leave those in need behind to keep treading water.


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