The plight of Syria's refugees transcends party politics. What’s worrying is that Nigel Farage realised that before our Prime Minister

Mr Cameron, unlike Ukip's leader, is a prisoner of strict party discipline

Share

At last, some movement from the Prime Minister on admitting a small number of Syrian refugees to this country. He is just beginning to recognise the moral case. In what I think must have been a bit of a panic, he told the House of Commons on Wednesday: “If there are very difficult cases of people who don’t belong in refugee camps who have either been disabled by these dreadful attacks, or are in very difficult circumstances, I am happy for us to look at that argument.”

Leave aside for the moment that Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, got to the same point three weeks ago, and study David Cameron’s words. What is this category of people “who don’t belong in refugees camps”? If you and your family are crossing the Syrian border in haste, the only place you can go to is a refugee camp. Does “disabled” mean injured, or forced to leave your home?

Evidently the Prime Minister was rattled, blurting out the first things that came into his mind. Compare what he said with Mr Farage’s words on 29 December. “I think refugees are a very different thing to economic migration… and I think, actually, there is a responsibility on all of us in the free West to try to help some of those people fleeing Syria, literally in fear of their lives.” He added it was time for “a proper debate” about “the difference between a refugee – who fears for his or her life – or somebody moving simply for economic benefit”.

The difference between the two statements is striking. Both men are marching towards the most important election battles of their lives, where their troops will be fighting each other hand to hand. These are the European Parliament elections due to be held on Thursday 22 May 2014 and the general election on 7 May 2015. Nonetheless, Mr Farage was prepared to voice sentiments that he must have known would surprise his followers and would probably disappoint many of them. And he put forward a reasoned argument for his position.

Mr Cameron, on the other hand, is a prisoner of strict party discipline. Everything must conform to the line – in this case, “immigration bad, keep the gates tightly locked”. Moral arguments, whether they concern, say, the bedroom tax part of welfare reform or, in this case, desperate Syrian refugees, are to be avoided at all costs. And when the Prime Minister does have to confront one, he starts talking gibberish to hide his confusion. Here, then, are the arguments for the more generous approach.

Syrian refugees walk among tents at Karkamis' refugee camp near the town of Gaziantep, south of Turkey Syrian refugees walk among tents at Karkamis' refugee camp near the town of Gaziantep, south of Turkey As the shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, told the House of Commons on Monday, the UN programme, which asks Western nations to accept 30,000 of the 2.3 million Syrians who have fled their country, “is for those whom the UN believes will find it hardest to survive in the camps in the region, such as abandoned children who have no other protection or support; torture victims, who may be suffering immense physical and mental distress; those who need urgent medical help; mothers of young children who have lost their husbands and relatives and are vulnerable; and those who have been abused in the camps. They are not asylum seekers. They cannot travel here or elsewhere to apply for asylum. They are already UN-certified refugees.” Pretty clear.

The moral case for admitting, say, 500 Syrian refugees, is being put at its most effective in a play, Kindertransport Live, that is being performed at railway stations and theatres across the country to mark the 75th anniversary of the Kindertransport. This was a programme that gave 10,000 Jewish children – and only children – safe passage to the UK. The British government introduced it in November 1938 after nights of violence against Jews across Germany and Austria. The play recalls the journey of these child evacuees.

We all know the scale of the Holocaust, but Kindertransport made a difference and saved many thousands of lives. That is the point. The play continues its tour until 30 March.

Read more:
Editorial: Let them in - Britain has a moral duty to help Syria's refugees
'No room at the inn': Britain condemned for turning its back on Syria's refugees
Yette Cooper: The situation for Syria's refugees is desperate. Our Government must now sign up to the UN's resettlement plan
 

 

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary teaching roles in Ipswich

£21552 - £31588 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education re...

Science teachers needed in Norwich

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Science teachers requ...

Semi Senior Accountant - Music

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful, Central London bas...

English teachers required in Lowestoft

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Qualified English tea...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A homeless person sleeps in the streets  

This is why I am sleeping rough outside the party conferences

Max J Freeman
Strikes were carried out by manned air force and navy aircraft (File photo)  

Syria air strikes: President Assad now has the enemy he always wanted – Islamist terrorism

Kim Sengupta
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits