Well, are you? Are you a member of the human race? Does seeing other people suffering not spark your compassion? Look at this:
Not graphic enough? What about this:
Convinced yet? I'm not going to post the next picture in the sequence, because we all know what it is already. I have two little girls aged six and four, and every time I see that photo I want to cry.
But we're all Good People here aren't we? And now that the refugee crisis in the Middle East, which has been going on for 3-4 years, has now been sufficiently illustrated it's important that we all demonstrate what Good People we are by decrying our Government for Not Doing Enough, and shout loudly that Something Should Be Done. It's important when doing this to shout loudly that Britain has only taken 216 Syrian refugees, while Germany has taken 800,000.
It's basically irrelevant to this argument that Britain has actually taken in about 5,000 Syrian refugees
, or that the figure for Germany is total applications
expected this year, rather than those accepted from one country. Details aren't the point here - righteous anger is.
I understand this (I feel it too, because I am a Good Person, just like all of you). But because it's Friday I'm going to take things a step or so further. First things first. When you see desperate refugees fleeing a brutal civil war between brutal authoritarian fascists
on one hand, and things that are even worse
on the other, the natural immediate impulse is to help. Britain has a history
of welcoming refugees, and even where that history is less pure than we might like
, the impulse to help
has always been there.
So the obvious response is for Britain to accept many more refugees from Syria and either to accept them as permanent residents here, or to provide long-term refuge until and unless Syria can be stabilised sufficiently for them to return home. There are thousands of refugees at Calais desperate to get to Britain. We could start there. There are thousands more rescued in the Mediterranean
by the Royal Navy. They could come too. Lastly there are hundreds of thousands in Greece, Italy and Hungary escaping by land and sea. We could take our share of them too.
The question that should be asked at this point though is what our actual aim is. Is it to minimise loss of life among the refugee population? Is it to reduce the numbers risking their lives on rickety and overcrowded ships on the Med? Is it to do everything we can to assist in the rebuilding of Syria once the war ends? Or is it to give ourselves a pat on the back and a nice glowy feeling of having done the right thing?
Because if our actual intention is any of the first three, then concentrating on the actual numbers taken in by Britain is counter-productive thing. If we rescue people from the Med, scoop them up out of the water and take them to the UK, what message are we sending? Obviously, that the way to get to Britain is to get on a boat. Equally, if we take in refugees that have made it to continental Europe, then the message is that the way to get to Britain is to get to Europe first. That is the journey, from Turkey, from Egypt, from Libya that is killing people. A primary policy should be to reduce the number of people wanting to make that journey, not increase the incentives for making it.
A policy that has a fair chance of actually saving more lives is to increase funding for the refugee camps in the region, and to grant asylum to people from those camps. This is, incidentally, more or less exactly what the UK has been doing, providing more money in aid than any other EU country (and as much as Germany and France combined). To the extent that Britain resettles more Syrian refugees (and for what it's worth I think they should, because I'm a Good Person, remember?) then these refugees should be taken from the refugee camps already established in the area. Not least because the idea that the best place to gain asylum to Europe is from a refugee camp is an idea that we want to take hold.
A lot can and should be done to make these camps better, and to ensure that people can work, that children can learn and that society can endure within them. But sometimes the clear, obviously morally right thing to do isn't the best thing to do at all.