It doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that Nigel Farage has appeared to out-leftie the three main parties on the subject of asylum for Syrians. It just surprises me that anyone is surprised.
Ukip as a party is opposed to mass immigration, and believes that the social costs of ‘diversity’ vastly outweigh the short-term economic benefits of migration. But the gift of asylum is something else; no one is saying that Syrians are needed to enrich our culture or add vibrancy or make cappuccinos for people who work at the Economist, they just need to escape from a hellish war or they may die. Of course we should give refuge to more.
But we shouldn’t pretend to ourselves that this is a temporary matter. I found Paul Collier’s Exodus hugely rewarding, but where I disagree with him is his belief in the application of short-term refuge. Rather our asylum policy should always assume that the people are here forever, and get them on their feet as soon as possible rather than leaving them to rot in Margate alongside understandably resentful locals.
If you look at the waves of refugees who came here in the past – Huguenots, French royalists, Russian Jews, Hungarian anti-Communists – in none of those cases was it safe for any of them to return home, except maybe for another 40 years. Syria is unlikely to be mended soon, and if Syrians are coming to Britain, they’re staying here; let’s not keep them hanging on benefits or pretend we can get them home, something which only makes the voters more cynical about asylum.
One proviso is that it shouldn’t be the state’s responsibility, but rather that of charities and voluntary groups to find the refugees housing and food until they are able to support themselves; the churches will easily find enough people willing to help; so would secular groups through Kickstarter and Twitter.
A few years ago I argued in favour of granting preferential asylum to Iraqi Christians, since they were the most vulnerable people in that country and under UN rules asylum can be given to a group endangered by ethnic cleansing. Apart from Sweden, most of Europe has told them to take a hike, mainly because they didn’t want to be seen as ‘discriminating’ in favour of Christians.
In the case of Syria the Christians are again especially vulnerable, although I think Britain should just take whoever we can save; but practically speaking it would have been easier if Syria’s Sunni, Shia and Christian neighbours and near-neighbours had agreed to taken in refugees along confessional lines, as it would have provoked less public hostility in Europe and therefore eased the burden on Turkey, Jordan and the Lebanon.
But there are too many mental hurdles for our ruling class to overcome, including their refusal to accept that some groups of people integrate better, even if this principle allows people to die. That’s all part of a deeper problem of why the public distrust them on this issue so much, and why Nigel Farage is so popular; as Chesterton might have noted, he has that rare mix of qualities in the public sphere – truth and pity. Once again he has shown his moral and political instincts are just right.
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