Today marks the first anniversary of the day when pictures of a drowned toddler shocked Europe and somehow brought to people’s consciousness that the people flocking in desperation to our shores are not swarms or hordes or any of the other disgraceful words our politicians and the media have used to describe them, but precious individuals, many of them tiny children. What has happened since then? Not a lot. Lord Dubs has made valiant attempts to get our government to face its responsibility to the unaccompanied children around our borders, especially those who have the legal right to rejoin family in the UK. But all he has succeeded in eliciting is empty words from politicians who, although they are supposed to be public servants, have no conscience whatsoever about forsaking their legal and moral duty, and ought to be ashamed of themselves.
Today is also the day when many leaders of different faiths in this country came together with members of their congregations to gather in central London and protest about this lack of action. They handed to Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, a list of the names of 387 children who are stuck in Calais despite being eligible for asylum in the UK. Some have perished trying to get here on lorries, a tragedy as well as a moral evil when they have the right to come here safely and legally. I have made two trips to Calais and seen the appalling sub-human conditions for myself. I would have been more often if family caring responsibilities had permitted. But if I cannot go, at least I can add my voice of protest to the growing chorus of those who want to see this country do the right thing and welcome the refugees in keeping with its long and proud traditions which the current generation of politicians appear to have forgotten.
Once upon a time a purportedly Christian regime waged war against Europe’s Muslims in the Balkans. In Kosovo the onslaught was particularly ferocious, and large numbers of ethnic Albanians living there were forced to flee and seek sanctuary elsewhere in Europe. As a result of this, Europe’s leaders got together and decided they should have a plan in case there should ever be another large influx of people into the countries of the EU. The outcome was EUR-Lex – l33124, a directive allowing for temporary protection in the event of a mass influx of displaced persons. This piece of legislation provided that if ever there should be another mass influx of displaced persons into the EU, they should be distributed fairly between the EU countries and given temporary protection and shelter, and only once this had been done would the process of establishing their refugee status begin. Those found to be genuine refugees would then be given asylum until it was safe for them to return home, and those who did not have a genuine asylum claim would be deported. Problem solved. Or would have been, at least in the interim, had not the EU decided to tear up its own law book, disregard the directive that had been put in place for exactly this eventuality, and watch as thousands upon thousands of people in need of temporary shelter perished in the seas around our coasts. What, we could ask, is the point of the EU if it can simply disregard its own laws when it happens to feel like it?
Another proposal was subsequently put forward, I’m not sure by whom. Perhaps it came from the UNHCR, I don’t know. This was a suggestion that people should be allowed to apply for asylum at any EU embassy anywhere in the world. Their claims could be processed while they were in situ, and if successful they could travel safely and legally to the country that had accepted them. This would actually have reduced the numbers of people arriving in Europe, because those whose claims were rejected would realise it was pointless to travel to Europe because they would simply be deported on arrival. Such a simple idea, and one that would have saved thousands of lives. So why was it not implemented? Why would our politicians rather that our shores were awash with hapless corpses than that genuine refugees be given asylum? I can find no answer that doesn’t involve insanity.
Other measures would also have made a difference. Daesh is buying and selling weapons, exporting illegally-gotten oil and running a racket in human trafficking, especially sex slaves. Somewhere in the world there are banks laundering all the tainted proceeds of this of this activity. They should be pursued, prosecuted, closed down and their assets seized. And war can happen only when an area is flooded with arms. If we had an international agreement to stop selling arms to the region, or to anyone who would sell them on to the region, the conflict would burn itself out for lack of fuel. So why are these very obvious measures not implemented?
I fear the answer lies in some of our politicians and their close allies being so tied up in the banks in question and in the armaments manufacturers that they would rather protect their own assets than save human lives. I am not pointing the finger at any politician in particular. I have no way of knowing who is or isn’t implicated. But I do know this: politicians who are regular attenders at church and who call themselves Christians should remember the words of the Christ they claim to follow: “Whoever receives one such little child in my name receives me”. And, “It would be better to have a millstone hung around one’s neck and be thrown into the sea, than to offend one of these little ones.”