Refugees 19th October 2016
I have spent the last week leading the UK delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg (PACE)
Not surprisingly this body, which should not be confused or conflated with the European Union and concentrates its attention on human rights, is exercised both by the bombing of Aleppo and by the refugee and migrant crisis that continues to face Europe.
Notwithstanding the desire by some leaders of some countries and international organisations to engage in appeasement of the Russian Federation the overwhelming message coming through is that there is no parliamentary appetite to tolerate the annexation of Crimea, the incursions into Eastern Ukraine or more particularly, Mr. Putin's commission of war crimes in Syria.
It was the French President, M. Hollande who while addressing the Assembly, confronted the refugee situation facing Calais. This is widely and incorrectly believed, within mainland Europe, to be 'a United Kingdom problem’. It is not. It stems from the wars in Syria and Afghanistan, certainly but it has been exacerbated by an evil trade in people-trafficking and by the removal, under the Schengen Agreement, of Europe's internal border controls. The ' free movement of people' has meant that once inside one of the Schengen countries, whether from the East or from one of the French colonies such as Martinique, a person is free to head across the continent without hindrance. There are some three million or more refugees from the conflict in Syria currently living in camps in Turkey. There are tens of thousands more in Greece and Italy and some ten thousand have made it to ' The Jungle' refugee city on the approaches to the Port of Calais.
President Hollande has determined that in this French Presidential Election Year the inhabitants of ' The Jungle' will be dispersed to other "reception centres" throughout France. These sound disturbingly like concentration camps, it is not clear how the ' dispersal' will be achieved in terms of transport and in the run up to the start of the operation at the end of this week violent clashes are already breaking out.
Easy, therefore, to say that Britain ' must do more' particularly where ' children ' are concerned and Members of Parliament are receiving demands to take these young people, many of whom are not children at all but young adults, at the very same time that our nation has just voted in demand of stricter controls over immigration!
May I urge caution? My wife and I have accommodated a young asylum seeker in our own home and we know from experience that, like fostering, it is not something that just anyone can undertake. Accepting that there are some very young children who have been abandoned along the people- trafficking route there are also child- protection considerations to be addressed. Unregulated entry could be a paedophile's playground. Receiving families have to be vetted, as do the children, and accommodation has to be suitable. You cannot just take in a migrant child that does not speak English and expect that ' everything will be alright'.
We are a compassionate nation and we are helping much as I believe from experience is practicably possible. But David Cameron was right to seek to take refugees from camps in Turkey under a process of screening carried out by the UNHCR and not, with the exception of some children with families in the UK, from The Jungle in Calais. Those advocating the latter course of action need to be aware that, however well- meaning, such a course of action is likely to end in tears and, very possibly, terrorist attack.