This week the Prime Minister changed the Government stance on giving asylum to refugees by accepting the latest amendment inserted into the Immigration Bill by the House of Lords. David Cameron feels this latest amendment will not have the negative impacts of the previous one. Must admit I'm not so sure. Could be triumph of hope over rational judgement. I very much the hope is justified. Anyway, here is my Oswestry and Borders Chronicle Column this week, which reflects on this hope.
"One of the most difficult issues I've faced since being elected an MP has been how to react to the many tragedies resulting from the conflict in and around Syria. The number of innocent people who have and are suffering is beyond comprehension. There are over ten million displaced Syrians. There has been mass murder by poison gas. Tens of thousands are being starved to death by siege tactics in Syria itself. Over two million are in refugee camps in Jordan alone. More millions are in Turkish and Lebanese camps. Increasing numbers are being tempted into the grasping, murderous hands of people traffickers, who send them out on perilous journeys over the Mediterranean in rickety boats with false promises and likelihood of death. There are tragedies on a scale which makes it difficult for an MP to know where the UK should focus its humanitarian effort.
It's against this background that the Government is facing demands to allow thousands of refugee children currently in France, and other EU countries to be allowed into the UK. So far the Government has resisted these demands for two important reasons. Firstly, there is the fear that allowing freedom for refugees to enter the UK will inadvertently make the promises of the evil people traffickers more attractive to potential travellers. The numbers of innocents being drowned in the Med is increasing.
A second reason is the inevitable transfer of humanitarian focus away from the conflict in and around Syria if the UK makes a commitment to France, which is after all as modern compassionate an EU state as the UK. There is already in place, and operating, the 'Dublin Regulation' which operates under the United Nations Humanitarian Refugee Commission, established to consider applications to unite families. However we resolve to provide UK help, I hope we don't forget the millions of displaced refugees (including children) we are not allowed to see. There are millions of them.
It's very difficult to know what is the most humanitarian approach in such terrible circumstances. All we do know is that the UK is focused on helping the millions of refugees in the camps. The UK has invested more humanitarian aid than every other European country put together. We are trying to create work in the camps so that refugees will be able to rebuild if and when the conflict is over. There are the tragedies we see (where we are allowed to) and the tragedies we don't see. It's my job to decide how best we can bring hope and humanitarian care to helpless innocents. It's not what MPs should do. It's what we must do."
Let us consider the two issues of most concern. Firstly, to avoid giving encouragement to criminal traffickers, a cut-off date in March will be introduced, after which newly arrived rufugees will not be accepted (except through the Dublin Resolution of course) as eligible to move to the UK. The Govt't says it believes this stipulation will eliminate encouragement to new refugees being tempted into taking perilous journeys to reach Europe. I accept this is logical and works 'on paper'. We can but hope it also works in practice.
But my second concern remains. I fear there will be a mood that having agreed to take in some refugees from EU countries, the UK will be thought by many to have done its bit to resolve the refugee crisis. I read of one colleague saying that "our policy is the wrong way round. We should be taking in young refugees from Europe and leaving the Syrian refugees in the camps" I despaired on reading that. I can only hope that we don't turn our backs on the tradegies in and near Syria - focussing on what we can see, with a lesser response to the human tragedies we know about but are not allowed to see.