Monday, 7 September 2015

Refugees and Migrants

It's the story currently gripping the headlines, and is dividing opinion up and down the country. As thousands - even hundreds of thousands of people pour into Europe from Africa and the Middle East, often taking dangerous journeys across the Sahara and the Mediterranean, sometimes with tragic consequences, the nations of Europe are divided over what to do about the biggest movement of people since World War II.

No one can help but feel anything but pity when the bodies of drowned toddlers are washed up on Turkish beaches, and the instinctive human desire is to do something - anything - to prevent such things from happening again. The debate has become rapidly polarised. Broadly, those on the Left are advocating more open borders, taking in the people enduring the perilous crossings. Those on the Right reject any further attempts to help. Leftists are painted as hand-wringing bleeding-heart liberals, Rightists are painted as heartless, uncaring xenophobes.

For what it's worth, my opinion is as follows:

  1. Rescue people who are in immediate danger. People who are crossing the Mediterranean in barely seaworthy craft, overloaded and without lifeboats or emergency floatation are at serious risk of drowning. The first action should therefore be to intercept such craft and rescue those people, otherwise they will die. This is morally intolerable.
  2. Deal with the people-traffickers. These people being loaded onto boats and set adrift at sea, hoping to get to Europe, are being trafficked by criminals operating out of ports in North Africa, Syria and possibly Lebanon and Turkey. Stop the traffickers, and you will stop the boats. These must be pursued through legal and military means if necessary.
  3. Distinguish between refugees and economic migrants. We have to accept the fact that some of the people making these attempted crossings to Europe are not refugees. They are not fleeing persecution, famine, war or disease - they simply want a higher quality of life. Europe cannot - and should not - attempt to provide for people, merely because they are poorer.
  4. Deport economic migrants to their home nations. People who are not genuine refugees - whilst we can sympathise with them for having a lower standard of living - should not be allowed to settle in Europe. They should be sent back to where they came from. It is up to their Governments to look to their needs, not ours.
  5. Recognise that refugees are a global issue, not just Europe's. The dialogue has always been, 'is Europe doing enough?' or 'is the UK doing enough?' What about the Arab countries, with whom many of the genuine refugees share a language, a religion and a culture, doing? It should not be Europe's place to act as the sole fount of solace in the world.
  6. End the conflicts in the Middle East, which the refugees are fleeing. Many would criticise any Western intervention in the region, given our recent forays in Afghanistan and Iraq. But the conflicts in the Middle East represent a clear danger to the Western world. A political solution is the only answer, but military force may have to be used to bring some factions to the table.
Ultimately, in order to stem the tide of migrants and refugees coming from the Middle East and North Africa, we need to accept that these places are not particularly nice places to live, and start doing something about it. That will probably include some form of military action, which is a rather comfortable, easy euphemism for young men dying thousands of miles away and being brought home in boxes. Sons, brothers, fathers and nephews, dying in the sand.

However, people are already dying. ISIS have killed thousands since their uprising in Iraq and Syria began. More have died fleeing them. And yet more will die as the conflict continues. Maybe a Western intervention could end it sooner. Maybe it would make things worse. It's a tough call to make, and an unpopular one. But someone had better make it soon, one way or the other.