There has been a stagey sort of surprise at the news that Nigel Farage has called for refugees from the conflict in Syria to be given asylum in Britain. He’s anti-immigration, see, so his call for generous provision for refugees of war has, at least for our major broadcasters, a paradoxical element.

But it doesn’t quite follow that if you are in favour of curbing immigration that you are therefore Scroogish on asylum. Paul Collier, the Oxford academic whom I interviewed for the Speccie after the publication of Exodus, his interesting book on the effects of migration on poor countries, was emphatic that countries had a moral duty to be generous in the provision of asylum. But only so long as the asylum is temporary; the deal being that once the conflict is more or less over, the refugees return to help rebuild their country. It’s very much in the interests of post-conflict states that their brightest and best return home, rather than staying put in the countries that gave them refuge.

And that second element, it seems to me, is what Britain is rubbish at, viz, returning people back to their war-ravaged states, preferably with enough cash in hand to start rebuilding their lives. But that must be the deal. Otherwise, as David Davis pointed out, you can have the situation bequeathed by Labour in respect of the Somali conflict, whereby tens of thousands of people were given refuge here from the war, only to remain in perpetuity.

If the conditions are spelt out in advance, then by all means let some of the unfortunate victims of the Syrian conflict come to the UK as well as to other states in Europe, though it may be hard to distinguish between a genuine exodus of displaced people and opportunistic migration. But once there’s some sort of cessation of conflict, they must be sent back.

The real argument against granting asylum is that the humanitarian initiative becomes a substitute for political engagement to help end the conflict itself. And the scary thing is that Britain as well as France seems already to have written off the international peace talks billed for January. The asylum debate may serve as a warm fuzzy substitute for an honest discussion of the compromises that western nations may have to make to help secure some sort of peace.

Tags: Asylum seekers, David Davis, Immigration, Nigel Farage, Syria