Saturday, September 19, 2015


I've been let off the hook today by a writer I've admired for years. He's a man of the Left and, I think, a co-founder of Prospect Magazine, to which I subscribe in order to bolster my own left-of-centre views. Goodhart is author of, inter alia, The British Dream, which is about post-war immigration, and he is a director of Demos Integration Hub. 

I've posted this on my FB page with the intro: "Another dose of reality. This time from a leading light of the Left, albeit in today's Daily Mail - David Goodhart, of left-of-centre Prospect Magazine. For my friends of the (far?)Left, read it before you biliously and contemptuously dismiss it as being the work of some 'social psychopath' or the like. You might just learn something."

Needless to say, perhaps, I agree with it. And I think that Mrs Merkel has been almost criminally naive. The road to Hell, they say, is paved with good intentions. Including hers.

"On the Hungarian border, thousands of migrants press forward against razor wire fences, chanting and screaming as lines of police stand grim-faced against them.

In Croatia, scores of others clamber through the windows of trains to hitch a ride westwards. To the south, boats loaded with people who’ve travelled up through Africa set sail from Libya heading for Italy.

They have all called Europe’s bluff. They have taken seriously the high-minded talk of European values, and now most of them will experience European hypocrisy as doors close once more, EU migration rules crumble and the continent divides.

Unnoticed by most Europeans, the asylum rules have widened since 2004 so anyone in the world at risk of ‘serious harm… by reasons of indiscriminate violence in situations of international or internal armed conflict’ can claim protection — which in practice means permanent residence — in an EU country

Unnoticed by most Europeans, the asylum rules have widened since 2004 so anyone in the world at risk of ‘serious harm… by reasons of indiscriminate violence in situations of international or internal armed conflict’ can claim protection — which in practice means permanent residence — in an EU country

The rich north of Europe is pitted against the poorer east, and liberal-minded, well-educated citizens diverge from the silent majority who still think that charity begins at home, even if it doesn’t end there in a crisis like this one.

How did we get to this crisis point? Unnoticed by most Europeans, the asylum rules have widened since 2004 so anyone in the world at risk of ‘serious harm… by reasons of indiscriminate violence in situations of international or internal armed conflict’ can claim protection — which in practice means permanent residence — in an EU country.

This fine sentiment worked only so long as relatively small numbers of people were able to reach Europe to claim that protection. But when border controls in southern Europe collapsed a few months ago and word got out in the Syrian refugee camps, and among thousands of others in Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea and parts of sub-Saharan Africa, the great caravan began to roll.

Riding the wave of sympathy triggered by the photograph of drowned toddler Aylan Kurdi, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel then exacerbated the situation by unilaterally declaring all Syrians would be welcome in Germany, and not returned to their country of first arrival, as EU rules require. 

(Though official figures yesterday revealed that in the past four months, just one in five of those seeking asylum across Europe has been Syrian.)

This is the reality in which we have to think about the question of our obligations to suffering humanity. It is not a matter of discrete tens of thousands arriving in Western Europe, as was the case in post-war Britain with Poles, Hungarians, Greek Cypriots, East African Asians and others.

Today, it is potentially tens of millions, when one considers those suffering in the face of conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan — not to mention the 40 per cent in poor countries who want to move to rich ones, according to a Gallup poll.

And so many more can now move thanks to the legal and physical permeability of Europe’s borders, as well as the communications and transport infrastructures that give them both windows into our societies and the means to get here.

To some on the Left, this is a cause for celebration. For the new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, and the tens of thousands who marched through London last Saturday calling on the Government to accept more refugees, there is no clear upward limit to the number of refugees we should take in Britain. (Despite Corbyn’s belief that our social infrastructure is on its last legs thanks to Tory austerity!)

Would 300,000 be enough —roughly the number we accepted from the Balkan conflicts 20 years ago? Half a million? A million?

Some of those marchers were modern versions of the intellectuals mocked by George Orwell for disdaining Britain while attaching themselves uncritically to the Soviet Union or other ‘progressive’ national causes.

Many, however, are genuine idealists, distant descendants of the earnest, righteous souls who helped to end slavery, kept a check on the excesses of empire, pressed for female suffrage and ended the death penalty.

No doubt some of those who marched believe we have an equal moral duty to all humans. Yet, if we did, we would have to favour completely open borders, and our resources — both emotional and financial — would be spread too thinly to make a real difference to anyone’s life.

The decent, and realistic, view of the majority in Britain is that we in rich countries do have some obligations to those less fortunate than us, but those obligations are weaker than the ones we owe to our families and friends, to our communities and to our nation.

For societies are not random collections of individuals who happen to live together. Successful nations are based on habits of co-operation, familiarity and trust, and on bonds of language, history and culture. If the European nations — so attractive to these refugees — are to survive and flourish, we require some sense of favouring our fellow citizens, and of controlling who crosses our borders to become a new citizen.

But Europe in recent years has been moving rapidly in the other direction in respect of its internal borders. Free movement across EU countries, which was once barely noticed because of similar income levels across the union, burst onto public consciousness after the poorer post-communist societies joined in 2004.

Meanwhile, little attention was paid to Europe’s external borders because — despite huge income gaps with most of the rest of the world — few people from poor countries tried to reach its shores.

Thanks to the Syria crisis, this has changed irrevocably, and the initial response of European leaders, cocooned in their borderless ideals, has been alarming.

By effectively abandoning the selection of who should and should not be allowed in at Europe’s southern and eastern borders, we are not showing compassion to the wretched of the earth. Instead, we are encouraging a dangerous free-for-all in which the fittest and nimblest — generally young men — battle their way in.

They are the kind of dynamic, determined, often educated people that the conflict-ridden societies they left behind need to rebuild them when peace at last arrives.

Most people in Britain and the rest of Europe, faced with pictures of desperate people, do feel compassion — and many act on it as individuals by donating to charities.

But most of us want to be generous without encouraging further flows, and without damaging our own country’s social infrastructure with unsustainably large inflows of people. Britain is already struggling to properly integrate incomers from more traditional, often Muslim, societies.

That is why I believe David Cameron’s ‘head and heart’ approach is broadly right. No doubt we can, and should, take a few more Syrians than the 20,000 over five years he has mooted. But our Government’s approach of investing more in the Syrian refugee camps to make them better places to live for a few years is surely right.

Most Syrians coming to Europe have been arriving from those camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, not because their lives are in any immediate danger, but because the UN refugee agency is running out of money to make them tolerable places to live.

They need more investment in schools and clinics and why not encourage businesses too?

But in the short term, we need to be far more ruthless about turning people away at Europe’s borders — maybe processing them in the way that Australia does, outside our borders, in the refugee camps themselves.

This will produce dismaying TV footage and Europe will be accused of heartlessness, but once the message gets through, it will cut the flows and reduce deaths on the Mediterranean. It will allow us to select those in most dire need, and those who are proper refugees under the narrower ‘well-founded fear of persecution’ formula dating from 1951.

In the medium term, we need to make foreign aid work better. We need more effective military interventions to stop future conflicts like the one in Syria.

That is easier said than done, but safe havens enforced by Western air power worked in northern Iraq in the war against Saddam, so why could something similar not become the norm in conflict zones?

Instead of reflecting along these lines, EU leaders are, as usual, fretting about trying to impose a ‘single European response’ — in this case a fair sharing out of the burden of taking in those refugees already in Europe.

But how do you define fair? These issues are — like security and defence policy — of fundamental concern to many countries in the EU which have different histories and national psychologies.

Hungary has announced plans to build a giant fence along the Croatian border - just days after sealing off access from Serbia with a 100 mile razor-wire barrier (pictured)
Hungary has announced plans to build a giant fence along the Croatian border - just days after sealing off access from Serbia with a 100 mile razor-wire barrier (pictured)

Even before this crisis emerged, Britain was experiencing unprecedented levels of legal immigration, and a rapidly rising population.

Partly for that reason we are focusing on financial aid to refugee camps and increasing development aid, rather than throwing open our borders like Angela Merkel has in Germany. One of the reasons she did is that Germany has a sharply falling population.

Yet it is the East Europeans who are most understandably upset about Brussels’ attempt to impose a kind of compulsory cosmopolitanism across the EU. Many in the former communist countries tend to see themselves as victims of their rapid social transitions. This makes them less likely to regard incoming foreigners as victims.

Most East European countries are much more ethnically homogeneous than western Europe, and wary of changing that. Some are also suffering a ‘demographic panic’: their birth rates are plunging and many of the educated have moved west — Bulgaria’s population is expected to fall by almost a third by 2050 — but they do not want their empty villages filled with Syrians and Afghans.

Many British and European citizens have expressed commendable empathy over the refugee crisis. But that has encouraged the politics of moral gesture, rather than clear-eyed leadership from Europe’s political class.

We cannot take the millions who would like to come here for a better life. It is far better to admit that and to restore the integrity of Europe’s borders — while selecting those in greatest need of help — than to make promises we do not really mean, and then renege on them. (On any objective basis of global need, Syrian refugees in camps come quite low. A child still dies every minute from malaria.)

In a telling radio interview, Bob Geldof said: ‘I hate what this is doing to us.’ He was agonising over the fact our bluff has indeed been called and we are unable to live up to our foolish if well-intentioned promises. 

The offer to provide protection to anyone in the world suffering ‘serious harm’ cannot be fulfilled. A more lasting and realistic refugee policy is urgently required, but it will not be a pretty sight

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