Priti Patel is willing for a price to be paid over migrant boats in the Channel – just not by her

Of course, the answer from home secretary is to insist that lives are paramount, but is that really true?

Sean O'Grady
Thursday 09 September 2021 19:35
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<p>Patel has as much chance of stopping such journeys as she has of stopping the tide coming in </p>

Patel has as much chance of stopping such journeys as she has of stopping the tide coming in

How long will it be before some poor, desperate Afghan who once helped western forces – maybe even British troops in their worst days in Helmand province – and who was left behind in Kabul finally makes his way to Europe and tries to get across the English Channel? What will his fate be?

Is it to be that they – and perhaps their family – will be turned back in their flimsy boat, now that Priti Patel’s plans include training for the Border Force to “turn back” the “illegal” migrants?

And what happens if the French simply refuse to escort them back to France? They will be stuck in limbo, waiting to sink and drown, unwanted by either of two rich western powers whose values they once thought they were trying to defend. Britain’s mission in Afghanistan really will be dead in the water.

Of course, the answer from Patel in regard to such situations is to insist that lives are paramount, that it’s a matter of “tactics”, as Boris Johnson calls it, and that the government will always do all it can. In which case, because lives are always in danger in such circumstances, and because the French will be of no assistance, the policy is useless, because the refugees will end up being taken to the Kent coast, just as they are now (and as they should be under the simple imperative of mercy, as well as under intentional law).

If they are to be left to drown, in some sort of misguided attempt at a deterrent, then the government has to bear responsibility for those deaths – as well as for sanctioning a breach of global conventions on saving life at sea and protecting human rights. Those on Border Force vessels – I notice the royal navy isn’t tangled up in this yet – should understand the repercussions as they “obey orders”. Consciences should be examined all the way down the command chain. Potentially paying compensation to any remaining family members of the deceased Afghan is not going to be enough to wash way the stain on Britain’s honour.

Human rights are universal, and there are no “deserving” or “undeserving” refugees. Whether they helped us in Afghanistan, or have come from places like Somalia or Mali, all deserve equal respect and treatment, because they all have a right to claim asylum and a right to life. Indeed, everyone has the right to seek a better life.

Maybe some refugees will be transported to some faraway nation to be “processed” – in other words left to rot, again as a message to others not to bother making the journey. Yet still they will come, for as long as there are wars, failed states and poverty to escape from. Such movement cannot be stopped.

As I’ve written before, Patel has as much chance of stopping such journeys as of stopping the tide coming in. What she wants is to be able to say she’s done something about the problem when she makes her speech at the Conservative Party conference. And when she’s confronted by hordes of flinty-faced, hard-hearted potential voters, she wants to show them the results of her hard work and tough polices. She hasn’t got anything else, so the potential for dead Afghans washed up on the beach will have to do.

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