14 April 2022
The Refugees We Deserve?
By Lynda Goetz
Boris said that ‘people have the right to expect better’. He was talking of course about his and others’ dismal infraction of his own government’s ridiculous Covid rules. It could apply though to much of what goes on in the name of Government and bureaucracy in general. The eighteenth century French lawyer, philosopher, diplomat and writer Joseph de Maistre famously said ‘Toute nation a le gouvernement qu’elle mérite’, usually translated as ‘Nations get the government they deserve’. Incidentally, and rather ironically, this remark was in reference to the new constitutional laws (August 1811) in Russia at that time. Whether or not Russia now has the government it deserves is a question for another time. Whether or not we have the government we deserve is perhaps also a rather larger question than can be addressed here, but it is in respect of our attitude to refugees that some have questioned whether it is our own behaviours and responses which have caused our Government to respond as it has done to the Ukrainian refugee crisis.
So, do we have the right to expect the Home Office to be nimble, agile and flexible when dealing with a crisis on our doorstep, when hitherto we have demanded that they be harsh, difficult and off-putting to those who seek sanctuary here? We are undoubtedly a small, overcrowded island and there has been, from some quarters at least, a demand from voters that government make immigration more difficult rather than easier. Faced with overseas workers ‘taking jobs’ as well as an influx of those from far-flung countries with different cultures and beliefs, there has been something of a backlash and a desire to curtail what many have seen as ‘uncontrolled’ immigration. Of course it has never been uncontrolled, but it has certainly appeared to some that ‘Englishness’ is being watered down and that incomers who have paid nothing into the system are taking advantage of our ‘generous’ benefits system.
In an article in The Economist in March, the writer pointed out that British attitudes were both ‘harsh and liberal’ and that the British appeared ‘to want extremely harsh asylum rules by default, but generous exceptions for groups that have captured their sympathy’, which is actually a rather brilliant summing up of the position. A more recent article from the same magazine suggested that we are on a ‘third phase of post-war immigration’ which is focused on skilled middle-class immigration from around the world. Health workers in particular are in demand, but we are up against other countries such as Canada and Australia. It would appear that these countries in many cases have more appeal and perhaps somewhat less bureaucratic systems.
The Vet Times this week ran an article with the headline ‘UK ‘doesn’t deserve’ Afghan vet refugees – Magic Carpet’. Magic Carpet was the name given to the privately-funded mission last year, led by a UK vet, to rescue from Afghanistan a group of 92 refugees comprising veterinary staff and their families. 14 of these have now been able to settle in France. The rest remain in Islamabad, awaiting the outcome of representations to governments. Many of these have already been offered jobs in UK veterinary practices, which are currently facing a massive recruitment crisis. However, in the face of a complete absence of any response from the Home Office, it looks as if these much needed veterinary surgeons and nurses could be going to Canada, rather than coming to the UK. It seems quite shocking that the MP for Afghan refugees, Victoria Atkins, has not even bothered to respond to numerous emails from the UK vets involved, nor indeed to a request from the Vet Times for comment. Surely this is the sort of immigration we need? These people will not be any sort of burden on UK taxpayers, will contribute to the country and answer a desperate need for skilled workers here. They are coming from a war-torn country which they have had to leave for reasons completely beyond their control. Why are the Home Office and the relevant MP stonewalling all attempts to allow these people to come here?
In the case of the Ukrainian refugees, the Government again appears incapable of any flexibility or speed. Whilst other countries have relaxed laws in the face of a crisis, this country appears to have got completely bogged down in following every single bureaucratic demand that exists. Instead of sweeping at least some of these aside in the interests of humanity and pragmatism (the problem of babies and children without passports, for example) there has been an insistence on ensuring that those women and children fleeing from war cross every ‘t’ and dot every ‘i’, even if it means them having to traverse an entire country to so. Is this the sort of nation we wish to be?
In many ways, I suspect it is. All countries have bureaucracy and the question of which countries are more bureaucratic is an almost impossible one to answer, apart obviously from countries like China. (Try going on to Quora with the question and you will quickly see that that responses differ and that on the whole, this country is probably not as bad as many others). Attempts to reform the Civil Service, the Home Office, Planning departments or the NHS seem mostly to end in failure. These juggernauts do not respond well to requests to do U-turns or even simply to execute a quick right or left turn. We, the voters, have demanded that our government take all measures to ensure that ‘terrorists’ should not be let in (never mind that many of them are ‘home-grown’ and have been here since birth) and it is not fleet enough of foot to then enable it turn around and exercise judgement on the likelihood of a 2-week old baby being a terrorist, nor is it capable of setting up a website matching refugees with offers of housing from UK residents.
The fickleness of the public is well-illustrated by the way in which the Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s popularity has gone from a high when he was introducing furlough schemes to its current low following the NI rise and the leaked information about his US Green Card and his wife’s non-dom tax status. Perhaps it is awareness of this which has meant the Home Office response to public demands to let in more Ukrainian refugees has been sluggish and incompetent. After all, when many of them are still here in five years’ time and there aren’t enough houses for them and schools and health services are overcrowded, who will be blamed then? Why, the Government of course. As for the Afghans, perhaps when all those new vet schools are churning out graduates who can’t find jobs because people have abandoned or had put to ‘sleep’ all those pets acquired during lockdown, the public will be pleased we ignored their expectations of a home and employment. In the meantime we can whinge about the constant flow of migrants landing on south coast beaches.