Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Helping Syrian Refugees

The dominating story in UK media a few months back was the difficulties faced by young Syrian refugees in Calais, who wanted to apply for Asylum in Britain. I was on the wrong side of public opinion at the time. But I stuck to my position, despite ferocious lobbying. Lord Dubbs had led a campaign to have the UK allow several thousand young refugees resident in Calais to come to Britain to claim asylum. It was said that they would not be treated sympathetically or fairly in France. In passing, I'm not sure what this says about France!! Anyway, even though I did not agree with this policy, I accepted the Dubbs amendment to the Immigration Bill. In my opinion it was not facing up to the refugee issue, but it did help a few Syrian refugee children. So it was beneficial to a small number, even if it did nothing to help the wider Syrian refugee problem.

Reason I revisit this heart breaking issue today is the decision by the Court of Appeal to over-turn a decision taken by the High Court in January to allow four refugees in Calais to travel to Britain to have their asylum applications heard. This was a test case. The UK Govt lodged the appeal, because the court decision would have fatally undermined the Dublin Regulation, which insists refugees must make their asylum applications in the first safe country they arrive in. This is an important principle, which helps separate genuine asylum seekers from economic migrants and others who want to move to the UK. 

Inevitably, those who think as I do were dismissed as callous and uncaring (even if the opposite was the case). It was quite aggressive criticism on times. However, I tend to study the evidence before I take a position, and support what I believe delivers the greatest good, rather than meet the emotionally charged line driven by the media. Now here is the reality about the UK's contribution. No European country has done more to support Syrian refugees than the UK. The UK has focussed its efforts on helping Syrian refugees where it's most beneficial - near the Syrian border. While the attention of the U.K. media was on Calais, the true refugee suffering was (and is) in Syria. I read reports that there are over 6 million Syrian refugees displaced in Syria. Almost 3 million in Turkey. 1.5 million in Lebanon and 1.2 million in Jordon. This is where the British effort was, is and should be concentrated.

When this issue was 'in the news' a few months ago, I and others were vilified for being concerned that over-riding the Dublin Regulation would encourage refugees to take desperately dangerous journeys in unseaworthy crafts, leading to deaths at sea. Since then, there has been a deal agreed with Turkey to attempt to counteract this 'refugee pull' - though whether that agreement with Turkey is functioning now is uncertain. I suspect Syrian refugees are still dying in the Mediterranean, though it's no longer being reported on our TV screens every night. The media caravan has moved on. The tragedy hasn't.

Anyway, back to this week's Court of Appeal judgement. I was opposed to the Dubbs amendment because it undermined the important Dublin Regulation and did not help the greatest number of refugees. Ok, I was not unhappy that a majority of MPs supported it. I spoke at length with the immigration minister, and accepted the position. It was not so much wrong, as not as right as it should have been. And I must admit I don't much enjoy being shouted at and accused of being callous. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this is that the Court of Appeal judgement passed almost unnoticed in the media this week. The media has moved on. The British Govt's policy should always be to help the largest number of refugees that it can. It's what we are doing.

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