After a week of emotional incontinence and frenzied virtue signalling on this issue, this piece by Dominic Lawson should be required reading on the Migrant Crisis. Lawson along with precious few others such as Matthew Paris and Max Hastings have actually tried to swim against the onslaught of the one-sided analysis being peddled by most of the UK print and broadcast media. I have copied the article in full as it is too important to be hidden behind the Times pay wall.
The more we ‘feel’ for the refugees, the worse their plight will be
WHEN Winston Churchill spoke about the crimes of the Nazis, did he begin by saying how much he personally had been affected by the horror? When William Gladstone produced his thunderous pamphlet denouncing the Turkish massacre of Bulgarian Christians and calling the British government to action in 1876, was there a single sentence in his many thousands of words that referred to his own emotions on the matter? No, not even a word.
Both these men understood it wasn’t about them. If only our current political and spiritual leaders had the same understanding. Following the publication of pictures of a Turkish police officer carrying the corpse of a Syrian Kurdish boy drowned in his family’s failed attempt to reach Greece, few can resist telling us how it has affected them, personally.
The leader of the Scottish National party, Nicola Sturgeon, wanted us to know it had reduced her “to tears”. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbi both declared: “My heart is broken.” Really? Or do they just mean they are jolly sad? And, anyway, who cares? I don’t mean about the death of that boy, but about whether various important people are upset by the sight of a drowned toddler. Some things should not need saying.
That was David Cameron’s first, sensible reaction. But after the broadcasters spent 24 hours showing and reshowing that poignant scene — mixed with tendentious reports that this was somehow “our fault” — the prime minister cracked. He felt forced to declare how upset he had been “as a father”.
The risk now is that a self-centred re–action will make a dreadful situation worse. Thus Alex Salmond, the former Scottish first minister, argued that Britain should join in an enlarged European quota system of receiving asylum seekers from Syria “so’s we can hold our heads up”. You see? It’s all about how we feel about ourselves, not about what is in the interests of the country that is actually in most need of help: Syria itself.
It is true that the normally level-headed German leader, Angela Merkel, has been in the forefront of encouraging Syrian refugees to settle in the EU. To be fair, she has declared that her own country will take 800,000 — but went on to demand others take “their share”. But what is a fair share? Germany has a declining population and considerable unused housing capacity. The UK is in the opposite situation — last year net migration into this country was a record 330,000.
The European Commission has drawn up its own quota system, dividing up the recent influx of 160,000 into the EU. So, for example, it insists that Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria take almost 9% of that number between them. But the migrants don’t want to settle there — and if they are given EU passports, there’s no way they can be made to stay in those countries rather than move on to western Europe.
And what happens to the quota system after all those people have been “allocated”? How does the EU deal with the next wave? It will assuredly be a much bigger one. For as Cameron tried vainly to point out, before being damned as “uncaring”, if we take in many thousands of those who have risked their lives to get to the shores of the EU, it would be the biggest possible incentive for others to pay the people-smugglers for the sort of lethal dinghy rides that saw the end of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi. (It also saw the death of his five-year-old brother Galip, and their mother, but there were no poignant photographs of their corpses, so few emote about them, just as they don’t about the 71 Syrians suffocated in a van meant for animal carcasses while being smuggled into Austria.)
As Justine Greening, the international development secretary, explained to the BBC on Friday, we need to understand the scale of all this: she pointed out that more than 10m people have been displaced by the Syrian civil war. Her predecessor, Andrew Mitchell, had been instrumental in supporting the Zaatari refugee camp three years ago — the most significant visible manifestation of Britain’s near-£1bn of aid for victims of the conflict and a model of what should be done on a much wider scale.
Zaatari has markets, sanitation and multiple field hospitals. It is no sort of place for permanent residency; but the Syrian war will not go on for ever and when it ends that country will need all its inhabitants, especially the most skilled and energetic, to rebuild and restore it. That is much more realistic than reconstructing Syria in Europe.
This has been best explained by Sir Paul Collier, the author of Exodus: Immigration and Multiculturalism in the 21st Century. As this eminent development economist wrote: “Europe . . . [should be] fostering a Syria-in-exile economy located in Jordan and other neighbouring countries . . . Providing a skilled minority of Syrians with dream lives in Europe is not the answer . . . It would gut Syria of the very people it would most need. It is an intellectually lazy feel-good policy for the bien-pensant.”
Collier went on to point out that the approach pioneered by the Germans “is not just foolish, it is deeply immoral. Europe has a duty to fish refugees out of the sea because it is morally responsible for tempting them into the sea. So whatever else Europe does, it must stop this policy of temptation. Paying a crook thousands of dollars for a place on a boat should not entitle a Syrian refugee to a more privileged entry to Europe. It is profoundly unfair to the other suffering refugees.”
This, essentially, is the British government’s opinion, which is why Greening has proposed instead that we take those from the Zaatari camp who are least able to look after themselves. That will most likely mean orphaned children, an echo of the Kindertransport, under which thousands of central European Jewish children came to this country at the end of the 1930s. They were orphaned subsequently, of course: the Kindertransport preceded the Holocaust.
Perhaps the most nauseating aspect of the television coverage over the past few days was reporters implying that Hungary’s attempts to register refugees in holding camps were reminiscent of the Nazis’ treatment of the Jews. The Hungarian government was simply meeting its obligations under the Dublin convention, which demands that those seeking asylum in the EU are assessed and registered in their country of arrival.
Nor should this debacle be seen simply as “a European issue”, despite what you might have read or heard. The immensely rich and sparsely populated Gulf states are deeply involved in funding combatants in Syria — yet they have resolutely closed their doors to Syrian refugees. And the bereaved father of Galip and Aylan Kurdi, depressed by his family’s prospects after months in Turkey (where they had fled from Syria), was attempting to get to Canada to join his sister, a Canadian national.
It is true Britain bears considerable responsibility for the situation in Libya, because we helped to remove the Gadaffi regime. But if we are also to be held responsible for Syria because parliament voted against bombing the regime of Bashar al-Assad, then we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t.
The death of Aylan and Galip Kurdi really isn’t our fault. It is not all about us.