Britain’s potential exit from the European Union is going to have a significant and lasting impact, not just on Britain and the UK, but also on the surrounding nations and even across the world.

Most people would likely agree that multi-nation coalitions such as the EU and NATO generally represent something positive: Solidarity and kinship — and, in troubled times, important military alliances that allow us to answer threats with appropriate force. Many others — Conservatives, mostly — hold these up as disturbing signposts on the road toward “world government.” For my part, I’ve never seen what’s worth fearing here — it’s only when these coalitions are allowed to fray or atrophy that real problems begin rearing their heads.

Case in point: Political refugees. With many in Britain calling for an exit from the European Union, the fates of untold thousands of refugees now hang in the balance. This is one consequence of Brexit that isn’t quite getting the attention it deserves amid the din of contradictory opinions and political grandstanding.

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What Asylum?

Political refugees have been streaming out of the troubled Middle East and into the neighboring regions en masse for some time now. Syrians have gotten the lion’s share of the attention lately, but they’re hardly alone — migrants and refugees have been fleeing armed conflict and abject poverty in just about every country in the Middle East, and even a few in Africa, as well.

There’s every indication that these asylum-seekers will continue to travel regardless of how the winds may shift in the Brexit debate. That’s the trouble with leaving a country laid to waste by perpetual war: There’s no home to go back to.

Here’s the thing: Whether or not Britain remains a member of the EU, they’re still obligated to give aid to refugees who turn up on their doorstep. It’s a matter of international law laid down in the United Nations Refugee Convention. While Britain may well exit the EU, they’re not about to withdraw from the UN.

June 23

Nevertheless, ahead of the June 23 vote on whether or not to Brexit the EU, the fate of these incoming refugees still appears to be uncertain.

David “Dodgy Dave” Cameron, Prime Minister of Britain, is campaigning in favor of remaining in the EU. In recent months he has suggested that political refugees and migrants currently living in France could pour into Britain if it cuts ties with the EU.

The issue at hand is border control — and many of the border controls in place currently are the product of European Union-style compromises and agreements between member nations. Emmanuel Macron, France’s Economy Minister, has echoed Cameron’s claims, suggesting that the very borders between nations — as laid forth in the Le Tournet agreement — may shift after Brexit, further complicating what had already been a haphazard pattern of migration between EU member nations.

The fate of 6,000 migrants in France now hangs in the balance. If Britain Brexits, and the Le Tournet agreement goes with it, those 6,000 migrants could be — in the uncharitable words of the Daily and Sunday Express — “dumped” on Britain’s doorstep.

But would that necessarily be a bad thing for the migrants? Said Laura Padoan, a UN spokeswoman: “People want to come to the UK because the UK is a peaceful country … and tolerant … and people are allowed to live their lives.”

Indeed: Britain is an attractive option for Syrian refugees who have either failed to start a new life elsewhere or who have been explicitly told to “move along.” Greece is no safe haven, thanks to the state of their economy, and France so far hasn’t been much better. Refugees there have lately found themselves without basic necessities. They move along — and many of them have attempted to move along to England.

The Ties That Bind

Whatever happens on June 23, people close to the issue remain certain that Britain will, and must, continue coordinating closely with the other EU nations. Nothing short of a continent-wide response to these millions of migrants can solve the problem, they say.

As you can probably tell, there are a lot of unknowns in this equation, so here are some facts: According to an EU referendum poll, just 20 percent of Brits expect Brexit to pass in June. That’s probably good news for the million refugees who arrived in Europe in 2015, and for whom Brexit would introduce the last thing they need: Further uncertainty.

One of the moral values underpinning the European Union is the free movement of people. Because Britain is such an attractive destination for migrants, their exit from this orderly consortium would leave the fates of thousands hanging in the balance. While Cameron has recognized that thousands of migrants could be forced into Britain if Brexit passes, the UK has not, as yet, volunteered any watercraft to help them make the crossing from France to Britain. Red tape, obstructionism and frayed alliances are all conspiring against these migrants, leaving their futures uncertain.

You’d be forgiven for being a touch confused at this point. You may be saying: If one of the guiding principles of the EU is the free movement of people, and if one result of Brexit is the movement of people, what’s the difference here? What’s at stake?

The truth is that Britain is far better positioned now, as an EU member, to help solve the migrant crisis than they would be if Brexit passes. As discussed above, Brexit would mean thousands of migrants now living in France would be forced into Britain. That doesn’t sound much like the free movement of people — it sounds like one country washing its hands of the problem. Leaving the EU would mean Britain may no longer be able to count on international cooperation.

The system that governs passport-free travel across Europe is already taxed to the breaking point thanks to the unprecedented Syrian situation and the attacks in Paris last year. Seeing Britain — or any other nation — leave the EU at this critical time could be a potential tragedy. This is a problem that can only be solved by strengthening the ties that bind our nations — not by dissolving them.

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Holly Whitman

Holly Whitman is the author behind Only Slightly Biased, a freelance journalist and striving to be one of the best women political writers on the web. Her work has been featured on Yahoo Finance, Fortune, Politicus, Bust and Feministing. You can find her on Twitter at @hollykwhitman.

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