‘Thoughts and prayers’ are not enough following the deaths of a family of four in the Channel. The secretary of state for migration in Spain, Hana Jalloul, recently stated that they do not see migration as a problem, they see people dying at sea as a problem. This profound statement was made days after the deaths of 140 people who died off the coast of Senegal after their ship caught fire and capsized.
Ms Jalloul also commented on efforts to support the people of the Canary Islands who are struggling to cope with the number of arrivals. She stressed the determination to combat organised crime and also acknowledged the migrants important role in Spanish life, including as care workers.
British politicians should be encouraged to learn from this example following the tragedy of the four Kurdish Iranians in the Channel. Reports on the deaths of this young family brought platitudes from Priti Patel, home secretary, and from prime minister Boris Johnson. Nothing however, dispelled the impression given that their attitude to all people trying to reach the UK to seek asylum is antagonistic. Ms Patel repeated her opposition to ‘callous criminals exploiting vulnerable people’ but there was no sympathy for the migrants desperation or indeed any acknowledgement that the reliance on smugglers is a matter not of accident but of political choice.
Ms Patel has been seen to adopt extraordinarily hostile language towards lawyers who represent migrants. Senior Judges were among many signatories to a letter complaining that her denunciation of ‘lefty lawyers’ had put people at physical risk. The letter was sent following reports of a man charged with preparing an act of terrorism after attacking an immigration law firms office.
Ministers still have the opportunity to change course. Alf Dubs, Labour Peers amendment to their immigration bill would allow unaccompanied children to be reunited with family in the UK after the transition period ends on 31st December. The refugee resettlement scheme must also be restarted as soon as this new lockdown ends. It was meant to provide a safe way in for up to 5,000 of those fleeing persecution but has been suspended due to the pandemic.
It is of course right that those who profit from smuggling people across borders must be tackled. It is however, cynical to portray the problem as one which has been created by people smugglers while denying the need for viable options. Climate crisis and the collapsing fish population are among reasons for increased migrants from Senegal and the Sahel region of Africa. The ongoing violence in Iraq and the war in Syria continue to force people to flee the Middle East. The victims of these disasters should not be blamed.
Responsible politicians should address the causes and the symptoms. They should also keep a sense of proportion and encourage the public to do the same. The number of asylum applications in the UK is a small fraction of that in France and Germany, and Turkey is home to around 4 million refugees. But the UK government again and again chooses hostile posturing over rational policy based on international co-operation, respect for the law and human rights.
Perhaps with the death of three children, Ms Patel could be encouraged to listen to European politicians !!!