Home secretary Priti Patel tells us the UK government is committed to “shutting down” routes used by migrants crossing the Channel to the south coast and disassembling the criminal gangs “making fortunes” enabling the illegal crossings to take place.
And whose fault is it anyway? Well, the French of course – as far as the government is concerned. If the French stopped the migrants putting to sea on their side of the Channel, our brave Border Force officers would not have to be dragging them out of their deflating dinghy on English soil.
Co-operation on crime and terrorism in Europe for the last 30 years has been a major benefit of our membership of the EU – and long may it continue after Brexit. Through Europol, EuroJust and the European Arrest Warrant, Britain’s war against organised crime, including closing down the so-called Costa del Crime in Spain where British villains would sit in the sunshine sipping their sangrias after fleeing justice has seen many successes.
Prime minister Boris Johnson calls for a change in the Dublin rules in order to prevent would-be migrants putting ashore in the UK.
Does anyone truly believe this will stop desperate people crossing dangerous waters in search of sanctuary and safety? It will not. The government often speaks of its admiration for the Australian points system for refugees. The way we treat these sad souls arriving from war zones, refugee camps and the deserts of North Africa needs no rating – it is plain wrong.
The manner in which our country met families with children from Sudan and Iran, some without life jackets on rubber boats not fit for the rough seas, bore no relation to the levels of respect and dignity we have always proudly claimed to be what makes us British. The inhumane approach of the present government seems to be to reduce immigration to zero.
In the last few days the home secretary has talked of sending in the Royal Navy to deal with the humanitarian crisis in the English Channel. Is this really an appropriate use of highly skilled sailors trained in the defence of the nation from foreign foe? If deployed, the Navy will do a professional job but this will mean little to the homeless, stateless, foreign families desperate for a new life.
Just before the lockdown, I supported a woman and her two little children who had fled from her husband in Pakistan because her beliefs of freedom and liberty for women did not chime with his. She had arrived with wounds on her back, one of her sons had wounds on his feet.
Upon arrival, her younger sister, herself a migrant who has built a business in London from nothing and never once relied on help from the UK government in any form, offered her accommodation.
This woman is living proof that refugees want to live in the UK because they want to be free to live, work and prosper in an independent state. If our great country is to prove true to its values, the home secretary should be implementing policies that welcome refugees, not condemn them out of hand.
Liberal Democrat peer Lord Oates, who spoke on an amendment by Lord Dubbs this year in the Lords, said of the migrant crossings: “Through the Brexit debates and the tragic plight of refugees displaced by war and poverty I argued that instead of throwing accusations at our European partners, we should be tackling together the circumstances that fuel the flight of desperate people towards our shores and that we should put in place a humane approach to policing the borders of our continent – because, as we are finding out, taking control of our borders is harder than writing a slogan.”
One thing that is easily forgotten is that the people risk their lives and the lives of their children to cross the 20-plus miles from the French coast to the south coast because they want to reach England. Why England? Often because they have families here, they speak English and across the world, Britain has in the past always had a reputation for fair play and justice. The loss of that reputation in the post-Brexit scramble for some new relevance in the world already seems to be happening.
As the daughter of immigrant parents, I fear that Britain’s proud history of providing sanctuary to those in need will not be upheld. If that is lost, we lose a core part of what it means to be British.
Lord Ricketts, a former ambassador to France, said on BBC’s Today programme yesterday, 11 August, that the migrant debate underlined the futility of Brexit rhetoric about “taking back control”.
He said: “It does show the hollowness of the rhetoric about ‘taking back control’ – this has to be done cooperatively with France. We have had a long track record of good cooperation with the French.”
Cooperation is the key word. Desperate people fleeing from Africa or Asia will keep coming. Only through cooperation with our neighbours will we find a humanitarian solution to what is a worldwide crisis.
Albert Einstein, the most famous refugee and humanitarian, said: “A bundle of belongings is not the only the thing a refugee brings to his new country.”
Migrants bring ambition, hope, energy. They work hard and they are net contributors to the economy.
Rabina Khan is a Liberal Democrat councillor for Shadwell in Tower Hamlets Council.
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