My article for the New Statesman: 23 April 2016

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My article for the New Statesman: 23 April 2016

Compassion and caution must both be at the heart of our response to the refugee crisis

 

It is only fair that if one asks the government to do more, we should acknowledge when it does so.

 

The Syrian conflict moves at a frightening pace. The families caught up in the maelstrom that follows it endure a life few of us can imagine.

In this storm Britain must do its part.

On Thursday the immigration minister announced his response to calls to UK to do more to protect children caught up by the Syrian refugee crisis. There will be a new resettlement scheme and a £10m fund.

We have seen other countries do their part with differing results. We have seen some of the brutality of eastern European partners as they seal their borders in the face of a million people on the move. We have seen how Germany has opened its doors without controls. While commendable and deeply human, the longer term effects of such a policy are only just beginning to be realised.

So we must be careful. Let’s take Germany. The truth is that modern German society has permanently changed as a result of the country’s policy towards refugees. Their efforts, whilst providing a home for millions of people, have seen an exponential growth in the people-trafficking markets, and over a million refugees enter the country.

And yet the horrific stories only get worse: of families sending unaccompanied children first; of the deeply hazardous journeys undertaken by refugees, and of the almost unbelievable brutality of the individuals making a profit from this crisis.

Other countries have sealed their borders. The scenes from Eastern Europe are deeply moving. Fathers holding their children out to get tear-gassed; families rioting with children in tow – these scenes tear at any parent’s protective heartstrings. In some it engenders a sense of anger. Because these people are not fleeing the guns; they are in Europe already. They are desperate. But desperate for what?

So we face an almost impossible policy area. We must do everything in our power to stop the United Kingdom becoming a pull factor in this conflict; critically we must also ensure that we do our duty by the most vulnerable families affected by this conflict. It is an immensely difficult balance.

I therefore welcome this government’s efforts to tackle this debate with their hearts and their heads. In the final analysis, there can be no doubt to the UK’s commitment to this crisis. While refugee numbers are easy political soundbites, we must be led by the nose of what actually works; what the experts recommend with long term, sustainable outcomes in the best interests of these people.

The detail in the minister’s statement is significant. He specifically addressed the concerns about children already in Europe by creating an £10m Refugee Children Fund specifically targeted at those children and refugees in Europe; this complements the £2.3bn already committed to the region. 75 UK personnel will deploy to Greece to assist teams there already. A new resettlement scheme will relocate 3,000 individuals in addition to the 20,000 Syrians being resettled under the Syrian resettlement scheme.

This is an extremely emotive policy area. I do think that last summer we were slow to start our response to the refugee crisis, and I spoke out at the time. Britain is a resilient yet compassionate nation, and we must do our part. But the truth is we are now doing our part – more than that, we are actually enacting a tangible plan that is saving lives, relocating the most vulnerable people from the region, yet doing everything we can to tackle the cowardly people traffickers throughout Europe.

It is only fair that if one asks the government to do more, we should acknowledge when it does so. Our government is working hard to keep pace with a messy, violent and awful conflict. With this latest announcement we are proving to be agile enough to face emerging challenges and second order effects; while still remaining in the single biggest bilateral donor to the region. But ‘caution’ is the word and “flexible” is the approach. We are a very fortunate country; Compassion must be the key factor in all of our policies. I welcome this announcement.

/ Articles, National Print

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