It should not have taken images of a drowned three year old boy lying face down in the sand on a Turkish beach for politicians and commentators to finally declare that “something must be done” about Europe’s migration crisis
Shame on us. It should not have taken pictures of Aylan Kurdi‘s lifeless body splashed across the front pages of the world’s newspapers to force the British government into a strategic rethink about how we tackle Europe’s great migration crisis and work with other countries to offer a just and humane response to this ongoing tragedy.
But nobody can say that it has not made a difference. Only yesterday, David Cameron was insisting that nothing “can be achieved simply by taking more and more refugees”, proposing instead to solve the crisis by simply ushering in world peace. Today, the Prime Minister announced that Britain will take thousands more Syrian refugees, insisting “we will do more, we are doing more”. What a fine, principled leader we have, daring to do the moral thing only after being emboldened by shifting public sentiment.
But this dithering in the face of human suffering and clear moral imperative is not new – it has been going on for months and years. Only last month, an Afghan military interpreter who served in Helmand with the Parachute Regiment was executed by the Taliban after being denied refuge by the UK government, despite pleas from senior military figures for the government to remember our moral obligation to our friends in danger overseas.
Prior to his death, the Telegraph reported:
Britain will have “blood on its hands” if Afghan interpreters are killed by the Taliban, the former head of the army has warned. Lord Dannatt said that the nation has a “debt of honour” and a “moral obligation” towards those who served alongside British forces.
It comes amid mounting controversy over the government’s refusal to allow Afghan interpreters to return to Britain, including one who worked as a translator for David Cameron.
Behold the sheer perversity of Britain’s approach to immigration and asylum – two separate issues, but conflated together and both woefully mishandled by successive governments of both parties.
When it comes to economic migration, David Cameron repeatedly stands before the British people and lies to them, pledging that he can reduce EU migration to the “tens of thousands” despite all of the levers for doing so being above his pay grade as mere prime minister of the UK. And so the government actively harms the economy by throttling skilled immigration from outside the EU and discouraging fee-paying students from studying in British universities, all in a desperate attempt to make a dent in the numbers.
Meanwhile, in the name of “looking tough” on immigration, the government stakes out a series of draconian positions which – in their quisling betrayal of asylum seekers and foreigners who have bravely served our country – would not have been much out of place in Vichy France. Fought under the Union Flag in the name of Britain’s national interest as a Gurkha or Afghan interpreter? Too bad, you’re on your own – this government is tough on immigration. Tough on all the wrong kinds of immigration.
But why is Britain and much of Europe so paralysed in their response?
We should not be surprised. The EU’s structure takes the pressing national interests of 28 member states and funnels them into a festering quagmire of gridlock, with each country jealously guarding its own privileges and desperate to avoid being seen to concede too much to its supposed partners. The post-war creation that was intended to be the pinnacle of enlightened internationalism is in fact nothing of the kind, making a coordinated humanitarian response to any crisis all but impossible.
And yet, by desperately pretending to be a nation state and ostentatiously adopting all of the trappings of a country – a parliament, an anthem, no internal borders – the European Union has set the expectation among its citizens and the world that it will respond to any crisis in a coordinated way. People are rightly scratching their heads and asking just what all of the lavishly compensated politicos and bureaucrats in Brussels are paid to do, if not to govern the continent of Europe with something approaching basic competence.
The difficult truth is this: if there was no ideologically blinkered commitment to the free movement of people within a 28-country union of wildly varying economies, cultures and per capita GDP levels, the EU would have vastly more room for manoeuvre in this present refugee and migrant crisis. There would never have been annual migrations in the hundreds of thousands each year from the poorer and struggling countries to the wealthier and more dynamic ones as standard, waved through by politicians without thought for the domestic workforce or community cohesion. And perhaps there would now be greater receptiveness in countries like Britain for the idea of taking in migrants in real desperate need.
This is the crux of the matter. Britain currently has a glut of inadequately skilled people at the bottom end of its domestic workforce, people who have been failed by the education system and who have essentially become globalisation’s losers. Trapped by the need to work, but lacking the ability to up-skill, too many of these people are effectively doomed to a life of minimum-wage drudgery. And then, as a final insult, they are out-competed in the Labour market by enthusiastic and hardworking immigrants for whom £6.50 an hour is an attractive wage.
By and large, the British people are not xenophobic. But their willingness to throw the door open to potentially tens of thousands of refugees and migrants is sorely constrained by the fact that successive governments have continually permitted country-changing levels of inward migration to take place without ever seeking the consent of the people, and despite continually, cynically promising to tackle immigration levels. The betrayal of the working classes by the political class does not excuse the anti-immigrant sentiment to which David Cameron was still pandering before the images of little Aylan Kurdi went viral, but it does go some way toward explaining it.
At a time when Britain’s population is being painfully weaned off of excessive levels of public spending by the Conservative government’s deficit reduction programme, asking the people to help welcome and integrate large numbers of genuine asylum seekers as well as economic migrants with no legal right to come here – many of whom are likely to be reliant on overstretched public services at least for an initial period – can be seen as a dangerous request too far.
Tim Stanley exposes the sheer wrong-headedness of Britain and Europe’s immigration policy in an excellent piece for the Catholic Herald, arguing that we have chosen “cheap plumbers over persecuted families”:
The European Union has handled that deluge appallingly. It operates a protectionist immigration policy that means free movement for insiders but exclusion for outsiders, a double standard bordering on racist. It insists that each member state deals with its asylum seekers by itself, via the Dublin Convention, leaving Greece and Italy to take responsibility for nearly the entire Mediterranean. It tore up the border controls between countries, which encouraged Greece and Italy to send the problem northwards to Germany and Scandinavia.
Some have walked to Calais, where they have come up against the most shameful immigration policy of all: Britain’s. In order to meet its target of reducing immigration to the tens of thousands – totally unobtainable while we are in the EU – the Government has done its best to squeeze migration from outside the EU. That means taking as few asylum seekers as possible. So while our businesses have grown fat on cheap labour imported from the comparatively wealthy EU, we have blocked entry to people fleeing for their lives. We have chosen cheap plumbers over persecuted families. We have outsourced the serving of Mammon.
The policy of open-door immigration underpinning the flawed dream of ever-closer European union has made the people of Europe more jealous, hostile and less welcoming to the tired, poor, huddled masses fleeing from the world’s conflict zones and regions of hopeless economic stagnation.
And once again, the supposedly noble European Union has ended up being one of the chief drivers of human misery and suffering.
But even if taking in more refugees was not a moral necessity, it would still make good strategic sense from a statecraft perspective. Here are thousands of predominantly young, driven people, sailing for Europe and trying to get into Britain. They want to come not because they looked up the UK benefits system in advance and have high hopes of gaming it, but out of sheer desperation and the dream of a better life. Imagine how grateful, how hardworking many of these future citizens could be if Britain welcomed them with open arms and a joined-up strategy to help assimilate them into our society.
As Zac Tate writes at CapX, there are potentially rich rewards to be had by the nation which sees this migration crisis as an opportunity, not a threat:
It is heartening to see Germany taking such a pro-active and welcoming role. Over the weekend, banners appeared in German football stadiums supporting the policy. 100 leading German figures condemned the spike in xenophobia. Last month, well-known news broadcaster Anja Reschke took on the emboldened internet trolls fuelling the far-right hate which manifested in the recent protests in Heidenau. Goslar mayor Oliver Junk, who is also a member of Angela Merkel’s centre-right CDU party, is openly courting migrants to rejuvenate his dying town, while Bundestag backbencher Martin Patzelt has gone a step further, by personally taking into his home two Eritrean migrants.
According to a poll for ZDF Heute, 60% of Germans believe the country can cope with the influx – estimated at 800,000 this year – and 86% say their country is a nation of immigrants. This is all the more remarkable for the fact that, leaving aside the influx of Turkish gastarbeiter in the 1960s and 1970s and the flows from the EU in more recent times, Germany has never really been a nation of immigration, as Chancellor Helmut Kohl once famously declared. A combination of good will, a sense of historical duty and a strong dose of pragmatism have combined to keep the door open to refugees.
But instead of this kind-hearted and entrepreneurial approach, Official Britain turns to these people with a surly, silent stare and makes clear that we view them as little more than an unwelcome “swarm” of insects.
Contrast this approach with Germany, which is forecast to take nearly one million migrants this year. Prior to this crisis, Britain was due to overtake Germany in population by the year 2060, becoming the pre-eminent economy in Europe. But we can likely kiss that hope goodbye if we remain so inflexible in responding to crises like this.
I can’t help but wonder whether among the tired, poor, huddled masses cramming themselves into unseaworthy boats, into refrigerated trucks, stowing away on trains or biding their time at one of the fetid camps which have sprung up all around supposedly civilised Europe, there is not the next Bill Gates or Sergey Brin or Daniel Harding.
These people are not ‘scroungers’ – they did not risk life and limb after being enticed by the prospect of a life on benefits in Britain. They had lives and careers in Syria before being displaced by the medieval barbarism of ISIS – a barbarism which, it must be remembered, our foreign policy helped to unleash – and simply want the opportunity to rebuild and to live.
So not only do we have a moral obligation to help people fleeing from violence (without expecting impoverished neighbour countries to do all the heavy lifting), it is also in our economic and geostrategic self interest to do so. What is the purpose of Britain’s ludicrous, bloated £12 billion international aid budget – ringfenced at the cost of defence and other vital priorities – if it is not now brought fully to bear on this present crisis?
The time is right for Britain to make a big, bold and generous humanitarian gesture, and pledge substantial and ongoing support to ameliorate the refugee crisis, including (but not limited to) pledging to take in Syrian refugees in the tens of thousands. But it is unlikely to happen – our superficial prime minister, his flank covered by the incompetence of the European Union, is likely to do what he always does best: seek to get away with the bare minimum.
And here is the real irony and tragedy: the EU, that institution created specifically to foster a sense of European unity and usher in a brave new world of compassion and solidarity, is now complicit in presenting the ugliest face Europe has shown to the world since the dark days of fascism in the last century.