Refugees are a test of our shared humanity
Published by the ipaper (18th September, 2016)
South Sudan is the world’s newest country, having just passed its fifth birthday. But there is little to celebrate in a brief life of a country stained by conflict, corruption and chaos that has already seen almost one-tenth of its population flee its borders. Last Friday the United Nations said its one millionth citizen was seeking refuge in a safer place, a tragic milestone placing it alongside Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia in the world’s saddest club of nations.
This is a salutary reminder that terrible troubles rumble on in our world with minimal attention, despite destroying so many lives of fellow human beings. And it reveals once again that for all the agonising over migration to rich nations such as Europe and the United States, the vast majority of refugees end up in much poorer developing nations. More than 125,000 South Sundanese have sought asylum in neighbouring Uganda alone since civil war flared up again in July, many bearing witness to appalling atrocities.
This is more than three times as many people as applied for asylum in Britain over the whole of last year – and already there are more than half a million hosted by this impoverished east Africa nation. They find not just safe haven, despite some inevitable frictions, but one of the planet’s most progressive official responses. Families receive free healthcare and education for children, along with fertile land and the chance to work or set up businesses. This means they can retain dignity and rebuild lives while contributing to a fast-growing economy. They are thus able to return easily to native countries when fighting ends.
Contrast this to wealthy nations such as Britain, France and the United States. Once they led the way in showing a sympathetic response to those fleeing danger, helping create the protocols that guarantee global rights and enshrine protection for refugees. Now they are fractured by populist anger against foreigners that makes little real distinction between migrants seeking a better life and refugees escaping savagery. With noble exceptions, few politicians have displayed much leadership in response to the demagogues who exploit fear.
This week, however, there is a chance to make amends with two summits in New York, called by the UN and President Barack Obama. These take place shortly after a peace deal ending a half-century conflict that displaced 8 million people in Colombia highlighted how even the most intractable conflicts eventually end, allowing refugees to return home. Yet they also come as a Republican candidate in the host nation’s presidential election seeks to build a border wall, as European nations do deals with despots to stop fresh arrivals, and as forced repatriations in Kenya and Pakistan threaten core foundations of refugee status.
There will be outpouring of platitudes from politicians, as always with these grand events. Those involved claim the gatherings will be ‘game-changers’, a new declaration reaffirming the role of international protection. Yet campaigners claims substantive proposals to provide safer passage, family reunions and to rehouse ten per cent of refugees annually have been dropped already from the document. It feels reminiscent of February’s donor conference for Syria in London, which proclaimed pledges of £6bn yet has seen only £1bn delivered.
The key is not simply aid but the ability for refugees to find first a sanctuary and then work. It is easy to chuck a chunk of a bloated aid budget at nations on the frontline of the Syrian crisis such as Lebanon and Jordan. Yet despite good intentions, I have seen how the refugee camps and food programmes there are woefully inadequate responses that drive families into soul-crushing dependancy or working in the black economy for a pittance. This also raises a moral question: why should a nation’s proximity to war make it responsible for big flows of people escaping bombs and bullets?
Europe, the self-styled cradle of civilisation, puts hurdles in the way even of those fleeing Syria, despite polls showing public sympathy for their plight. Meanwhile few care about Iraqis fleeing Islamic State – created as backwash from our own intervention – let alone Nigerians escaping Boko Haram or those unfortunate South Sudanese. People crossing the Mediterranean and Sahara still die in their thousands. Now those reaching Greece are effectively imprisoned since fewer than 5,000 refugees have been shifted from there, and Italy, to other European countries, despite promises to relocate 160,000 a year ago.
There was a tide of warm words when the image of a drowned child, Alan Kurdi, made waves in 2015. But so little real action. Britain has a particularly bad recent record, despite its history of enrichment from successive groups of refugees dating back to the arrival of Huguenots fleeing French massacres in the sixteenth century. Ministers opposed taking significant numbers of Syrians, grudgingly accepting a paltry 20,000 people from the most destructive conflict in living memory – and remain sluggish in fulfilling even this pathetic pledge. So what hope of a sensible scheme such as the one in Canada which allows supportive communities to privately fund refugees?
Our new prime minister takes a tough stance. She ran the home office when ministers axed funding for a Mediterranean rescue mission and then dishonestly rebranded Eritreans fleeing repression as economic migrants. Now, rattled by the referendum result, she is sending signals to those backing Brexit that their voices are being heard. Yet some Western leaders are showing real leadership on this issue: Obama, for instance, wants the US to take 25,000 more Syrians despite the divisions stirred up by Donald Trump. The migration crisis is a test for liberal democracies. But it is also a test for our decency and shared humanity.
Most recent articlesStop this anti-Cameron cacophony
Published by The Mail on Sunday (18th September, 2016) A year ago, David Cameron was being hailed as a political colossus after pulling off a shock Election victory. Now he is slinking from Parliament, his achievements dismissed and his reputation in ruins. There is no doubt Brexit was a disaster that will tarnish his place […]Cannabis: the medical case for reform
Published by the i paper (11th September, 2016) Joe Quinn is an unlikely cannabis campaigner. For a start, he is in his sixties. More pertinently, he is a Franciscan monk. But each night before going to bed he puffs on a weed-filled pipe with full knowledge of other members of his monastery. For the friendly […]Priming the pot
Published by Volte Face (9th September, 2016) During almost five years on the beat as a police officer, patrolling some of the roughest parts of London, Mike Abbott arrested dozens of people for drug offences. As a young recruit he picked up people carrying cannabis on the street in areas such as Brixton, later participating in […]British cop who became America’s cannabis king
Published by The Mail on Sunday (11th September, 2016) During almost five years on the beat, patrolling some of the roughest parts of London, Mike Abbott arrested dozens of people for drug offences. As a young recruit he picked up people carrying cannabis on the street in areas such as Brixton, and later participated in […]Brexit means Brexit. But what does that mean?
Published by the i paper (5th September, 2016) Theresa May is a fortunate politician in so many ways. Her own party seems united behind her, the public has warmed to her slightly aloof style, and the opposition is in disarray under a bumbling hardliner. She is confident enough to rule out an early election, despite […]The £240k health boss who sums up what’s wrong with our NHS
Published by The Daily Mail (1st September, 2016) As the boss of a public organisation employing 9,000 staff, Katrina Percy loved to boast about her skills and her devotion to looking after community health services across a vast swathe of the country. In one interview, published shortly after being named ‘NHS chief executive of the […]The NHS is ailing. Is a ringfenced tax the best remedy?
Published by The Guardian (30th August, 2016) Doctors and their vociferous unions do like to complain, posing as protectors of the National Health Service while they dig in hard to protect their patch. But that does not mean their views should be discounted. The British Medical Association has claimed the workload of family doctors in […]Gap year volunteers can do more harm than good
Published by the ipaper (29th August, 2016) It’s that time of year: the results are in, the desired grades have been achieved and plans for the pre-university gap year can be finalised. Thousands of school-leavers are excitedly preparing to head off to exotic parts of the planet for several months of adventure and hedonism. Many […]The last call
Published by The Mail on Sunday (28th August, 2016) Two British teenagers orphaned in Italy’s earthquake spent all day calling the mobile phones of their parents in the desperate hope they might still be alive beneath the rubble of their family holiday home. William and Maria Henniker-Gotley died when the six-bedroom villa they had lovingly […]New minister taking a tougher line
Published by The Mail on Sunday (August 28th, 2016) She does not deserve three cheers yet, probably not even two. But let us give one cheer at least… for at long last the Minister charged with spraying taxpayers’ cash around the world seems to appreciate the fears of those funding the spending spree. The concerns […]‘How could our country lie to us so completely?’
Published by The Guardian (27th August, 2016) One day, when he was 25 years old, Park Sang-hak was strolling around a huge square in the North Korean port of Wonsan. It is a drab place, with just a few flags and painted propaganda posters providing splashes of colour. But, as a trusted party worker and […]Clubs are closing and British culture will suffer
Published by theipaper (22nd August, 2016) Seventeen years is a long time in club culture. Yet Fabric has survived and largely thrived in a former cold storage unit built in Victorian times for London’s Smithfield meat market since just before the start of this century. It became something of an institution, twice voted the world’s […]Now Theresa May can see the mountainous challenge ahead
Published by The Guardian (19th August, 2016) Having reached the political summit with surprising ease, Theresa May has headed to the Swiss Alps for her summer holiday. She enjoys the adventurous hikes, stunning views and solitude away from the frenzy of Westminster. After a slightly frosty photo opportunity, our new prime minister will no doubt spend […]The bright side of Brexit: we can ditch daft farm subsidies
Published by the ipaper (15th August, 2016) Slowly but surely, the consequences of that self-harming Brexit vote become clearer. The pound has fallen, the economy is shrinking, the jobs market freezing, pension funds suffering. Ministers given the task of overseeing departure from the European Union are squabbling while desperately seeking experts for their staff. Backbench […]How can Britain justify propping up Mugabe?
Published by The Daily Telegraph (12th August, 2016) First the price of mobile data went up drastically overnight. Then it emerged Zimbabwe’s government is preparing a law to give its feared security forces new powers to intercept private communications, seize devices such as smartphones and jail ‘abusers’ for up to five years. An army chief said […]Free speech – or hate speech?
Published by the ipaper (8th August, 2016) Jérémy Gabriel was born with a rare congenital disorder called Treacher Collins Syndrome, which can cause severe facial disfigurement affecting development of the eyes, ears, cheekbones and jaw. Although symptoms vary widely, this can be an especially difficult condition for children. It left him battling ear infections, struggling […]Revealed: terror training base Israel claims was built by British aid
Published by The Mail on Sunday (8th August, 2016) A training base built by an Islamist terrorist group behind suicide bombings and mass shootings was allegedly funded by British aid. The compound in the north of the Gaza Strip is operated by the military wing of Hamas. It is fitted with sophisticated communications equipment for surveillance […]We fixate on the Ukip pantomime. That’s a serious mistake
Published by The Guardian (5th August, 2016) You need a heart of stone not to laugh. Stephen Woolfe, favourite to be the new king of Ukip and backed by both its former leader and biggest funder, is barred from the leadership ballot. You might think that failing to submit nomination papers on time raised competence questions, […]Murder in the blue lagoon
Published by The Spectator (4th August, 2016) The Jolly Roger Social Club: A True Story of A Killer in Paradise by Nick Foster (Duckworth Overlook) Cher Hughes loved the beauty, the white sand beaches and sun-kissed climate of the tropical islands of Bocas del Toro in Panama. So she sold her thriving sign business in […]Honouring my friends from Number Ten is wrong
Published by The Daily Telegraph (2nd August, 2016) There is no doubt the leaked list of gongs that David Cameron wants to dole out looks demeaning. There are knighthoods proposed for cabinet ministers who backed him against Brexit and businessmen who donated heavily to the cause. Awards for key aides and advisers, plus one for Jack […]