117 million people are currently displaced in the world- through warfare, hunger, poverty. They can see our health, prosperity, education and so much more. They have nothing. They starve; their children die. 1 billion people in the world go to bed hungry every night; another billion of us go to bed obese. That cannot be right. Drought, floods, warfare, tyranny. It’s actually surprising that it’s only 117 million. We may not like it; some people would like to throw up a wall around our country and tell the ‘nasty foreigners to go away.’ But that is neither humanitarian, nor even possible.
Last year 1.2 million people migrated into the UK, only half of whom then left. There’s a total of 6 million people living in the UK who have the nationality of a different country. Similarly, 13.9 million Brits live overseas. International migration is just part of modern living. And anyhow, these are people we need at least in part to do jobs that we Brits turn our noses up at - in the NHS, long term care, agriculture and hospitality industries in particular.
We also have a proud tradition of offering political asylum to those who would be persecuted in their own countries for no reason other than their beliefs. Its roughly 80,000 per year. It is right that we give safe haven to genuine asylum seekers; yet compassionate as we may be, we simply do not have the resources to do as the USA did last century and ‘welcome the world’s poor to our bosom’.
Those most visible, and controversial, are those arriving in Britain by small boat (46,000 last year). They are not necessarily asylum seekers and tend to be economic migrants, who we have no moral or humanitarian obligation to accept. We have to persuade these people (and the wicked mafia thugs who ship them much like the old-time slavers) that there is no point in coming here; if they do they will be removed- to their own safe country or a third country to be decided. We must stop the appalling trans-channel trade in poor starving terrified people risking their lives for an imagined land flowing with gold and honey on this side of the channel. That is why I will support the Government’s Immigration Bill which comes back to the Commons this week. It’s had its powerful disincentives ripped out in 20 crucial amendments by the Lords, at least most of which we will reverse.
Our motivation must be compassion for these poor people. They are victims rather than criminals. So we must treat them properly, if robustly. I hated the news report that Government Ministers have had child-friendly cartoons in the reception areas painted over to make them less attractive. Tiny children, terrified, starving, lost in a foreign land and often unaccompanied. Surely it is only decent to try to make their reception area feel a little bit friendly and welcoming. I will try to make the point to Robert Jenrick during the week. What a harsh and needless decision it was to over paint Donald Duck.
The Wiltshire Hotel near Royal Wootton Bassett is a totally inappropriate place to house them. Miles from any kind of facility-leisure, educational, religious- it is neither suitable for the migrants, nor is its use acceptable to local people. I am pressing the Government to discontinue the use of this kind of vastly expensive hotel for these people.
We used to feel sorry for those exiled from their native heath. So should we today; we should treat them with a firm yet compassionate hand. They are sad exiles, and we should do all we can, not just to turn them back, but to remove the many reasons why they started on their hazardous journeys in the first place.
It’s a hugely complicated issue, and hyperbole, racism, lack of compassion and soggy thinking are equally unacceptable in it.