Saturday 1 August 2015

Asylum Seekers and Migrants at Calais

The issue of hopeful asylum seekers and migrants at Calais has brought out the worst in Britain's right-wing politicians, popular press and probably more than a few others as well.

A few days ago Nigel Farage, still UKIP leader, noted on the radio that nine asylum seekers had already died in attempts to get into the UK  (one young man only that morning) and demanded that "something should be done" or  it wouldn't be long before a British citizen was killed.  This is a nasty throwback to the gung-ho Boys' Own Paper attitude  of my childhood, in which one Briton  (probably Englishman, actually) was worth ten Frenchmen, umpteen Italians etc.

A death is a death, and is to be lamented , whatever the nationality.  It is, as far as I know, a feature of all mainstream religions that all are equal in the sight of God (or the Gods.)  In Christian writings, the adjective "precious" is often used.

Then our prime minister, David Cameron, referred to the "swarm" of people in Calais trying to get into the UK. As a former PR professional Cameron presumably knows the importance of choosing words carefully, so we can assume he's aware that "swarm" usually refers to insects rather than humans.  I think some weeks ago someone referred to "cockroaches" but I can't member who.

Now our Red-top press talks of sending in police dogs and even the army to control the situation.

A few facts should help to put the situation into perspective:

  • the UK is not the top,  preferred destination for most migrants - in Europe top of the list is Germany, followed by Sweden. Britain is half-way down the list;
  • if migrants are attracted by our "generous welfare payments they are sadly deluded - we pay £36.62 per week (yes, per week) to asylum seekers who need financial help, compared with Norway's £88.65, and Germany's £67.56.  Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands and France are all more generous than we are;
  • the overwhelming majority of migrants are fleeing death,destitution, mayhem  or persecution in "failed" states or those suffering from civil war, such as Sudan, Eritrea, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran.  It will not escape notice that US/UK foreign policy adventures may have  contributed to some of the chaos in these countries;
  • the migrants and asylum seekers are mostly young, courageous, ambitious, bold and aspiring for better things - just the sort of people the Tory party pretends  to appeal to.
I have no better short-run solution to the issue  than anyone else, except to say that:
  • any language used should recognise the humanity of all concerned;
  •  migrants and asylum seekers should be treated with dignity and in decent conditions, while awaiting either a welcome or return to their origin;
  • if that costs us money that is what civilisation is all about;
  • we can't blame the French when we have somehow managed to transfer the policing of our own  borders to French soil;
  • we need to share more equitably the privilege of offering succour to refugees, recognising that the vast majority, 85%, are at present accommodated in some of the world's poorest countries, and only 15% in our rich continent.
 In the long run, of course, and before we're all dead, we need to help create world conditions in which all people have a decent chance of a civilised existence in their own countries, so:
  • stop supplying nasty regimes with arms;
  • re-jig world trading rules with a balance in favour of the poor rather than the rich;
  •  be willing to share our own prosperity, and
  •  be thankful that we live in a country to which people want to come rather than from which people want to escape.  


  1. It was Cecil Rhodes who said to be born an Englishman was to win first prize in the lottery of life.
    We expect asylum seekers to subsist on £5 a day! Pretty mean surely?

  2. Absolutely right, Peter. I am ashamed of my country's response to this. I've written to my (4) MEP's asking why there is no European response. Only the socialist replied directly, to say that unfortunately unless the member states all agree, nothing can be done. Naively, I had thought this was what the European project was all about - ie coordinated Europe-wide action.