My eye’s recently been caught by a string of stories from Vote Leave, blatantly scaremongering about Turkey. Yet Boris Johnson and Douglas Carswell were both founder-members of Conservative Friends of Turkey, whose aims include to “Lobby in favour of Turkish membership of the EU”: have they had a politically-convenient change of heart?
The messaging has been blunt. The front page of Vote Leave’s web site currently (29 May 2016) leads with “Turkey joining the EU means even more stress on our country”. There have been posters from them saying Turkey is joining the EU, and an infographic on facebook showing a map of Europe with showing the population of Turkey as 77 Million, and an arrow from there to the UK, as if the entire population of Turkey is coming here. That makes UKIP’s wildly exaggerated claims about migration from Romania and Bulgaria a few years back seem moderate.
There’s a startling gap between the English and French media on the agreement yesterday (8 March 2016) on migrants from Turkey which has worrying implications for the EU referendum debate.
In the afternoon I spoke with two friends who are usually well-informed, and who expressed concern at the deal being done with Turkey over migrants. My mind went into “euromyths” mode, wondering what the kernel(s) of truth in the story might be. Later caught a radio news bulletin which seemed to confirm what they had said — that a deal was being done with Turkey that would mean Syrian migrants reaching Greece from there would be returned, and one migrant from the refugee camps would be allowed to settle in the EU for each migrant returned. That’s an elegant way of removing the incentive for the human trafficers who are putting lives at risk. The implication is that this was a last-ditch attempt to head off Syrian migrants on their way to the UK, and linked to the sweetener of fast tracking Turkey’s application to join the EU (ignoring concerns at press freedom and democracy in Turkey).
In the UK the debate around immigration seems to swing between discussions of free movement of people within the European Union, “economic migrants” (who come to the UK and pay taxes here) and comments on those seeking asylum which swing between seeing them as threats and seeing them as people who deserve compassion. That mix mobilises lots of fears of “others” or “foreigners”, particularly among those with least actual experience of people from other countries.