Of what is happening on the Channel, we know this for certain: it is not a crisis. Only 239 foreign nationals have crossed unauthorised since November, a rounding error in the 625,000 legal migrants and 15,170 asylum seekers and other protectees granted leave in the UK in the year to June 2018. We know this isn’t a real crisis, too, because the Home Secretary has cut short his holiday to manage it. There is nothing phonier than a minister dragging his family away from the beach to get his best serious face in the Sun. Thomas Cook probably offers insurance for the eventuality: ‘Might have to return home early to be beasted on the Today programme? Buy peace of mind with our new John Humphrys (In-Studio) Premium Cover’.
What’s more, the Church of England says it’s not a crisis — and they would know. The charity Help Refugees says it’s not a crisis. So it’s with some trepidation that I contend that, actually, it is a bit of a crisis. Not a big one. A mini crisis. Not a full-blown one. A cris-ish. Britain is not about to be overrun by a few hundred desperate Iranians and Afghans. If they get lairy, I reckon we can take them. What we can’t take is this notion that you can cross the English Channel illicitly and be automatically allowed to stay here. Not because a nice vicar on the radio said so. Not because it would make some of us feel virtuous. Not even because it’s Christmas and there are movies about loveable hobos on television.
Refugees entering the UK ought to be extended their full rights under the 1971 Act, the ECHR and the UNRC and their claims ought to be processed speedily and compassionately. It is not always clear who is a refugee and who is an economic migrant and that takes time and resources. The former, should they meet the criteria, ought to be granted asylum or other leave to remain. The latter cannot and should not be viewed in the same light. Where once right-wingers were guilty of conflating immigration and asylum, now it is liberals who seek to frame migrants as coterminous with refugees.
A nation that does not control its borders is no nation at all. Migrants who come here improperly, no matter how sympathetic they are, have disregarded the UK’s right to defend its borders and spurned the legal immigration process and sought advantage over those trudging through it honestly. What the Guardian winningly calls ‘seaborne migration’ is in fact lawless incursion and no country, however good-hearted, can allow that situation to prosper. There have been unsanctioned crossings throughout the year but the sudden spike, numerically modest though it is, hints at a burgeoning new route. Unchecked, there is no reason to suppose these crossings will stop of their own accord.
It is not a question of poor people coming here in search of a better life. There are a great many poor people in the world and a lot of them would jump at the chance to resettle in the UK. Illegal immigration is the enemy of legal immigration. It saps public support for legitimate migration, drains the immigration system of scarce resources, and treats legal migrants with contempt. No less objectionable, it treats the host country with contempt. Jimmying the back door to get in is not the ideal beginning for a respectful and productive relationship with your new homeland. Most obnoxious of all is the infrastructure of illegal entry, specifically the practice of people smuggling where traffickers prey on the situation of desperate people and act with no regard to their personal safety.
As one newspaper editorialised over the weekend:
‘The use of this route seems to be mostly by Iranians, apparently paying large sums of money to people-smugglers trying to get them across busy shipping lanes. So far there have been no reports of drownings, but the route is plainly dangerous and the humanitarian priority must be to deter people in France from trying to make the crossing. That means co-operating with the French authorities to disrupt the people-smuggling networks and to monitor the French coast.’
The Telegraph? The Express? No, the Independent. And they’re right to be concerned, as the example of Australia demonstrates. When the Australian Labor Party returned to government in 2007 after 11 years of opposition, high among their priorities was gutting their predecessor John Howard’s hard-headed approach to illegal boat arrivals. Temporary protection visas were scrapped in favour of permanent leave to remain. Howard’s ‘turnarounds’ policy — deploying the Royal Australian Navy to intercept people smugglers’ and other unauthorised vessels and order them back out of Australian waters — was ditched. The result was a humanitarian disaster. Allowing the boats to resume saw more than 1,100 people drown at sea and almost 2,000 children held in detention when Labor left power.
Operation Sovereign Borders, introduced by Tony Abbott’s government in 2013 and maintained by his successors, has been attacked as draconian but the results are there to see: asylum seeker deaths down from 238 in 2013 to six last year. Amnesty International has accused Australia of a ‘wilful policy of cruelty and neglect’ in its processing of refugee claimants in off-shore detention centres on Manus and Nauru islands but it is a policy that enjoys considerable public support. Neglecting borders eventually makes them harder, not more flexible.
If you think there’s no crisis on the Channel, or are otherwise an advocate of a more relaxed migration and asylum regime, you may be unconvinced. Speccie gonna Speccie, and all that. In fact, there are more pro-immigration voices on the Spectator that any other right-wing publication in Britain, and maybe even some of the left-wing ones too. I am what many below-the-line on Coffee House would deem a globalist (though ‘Soros-funded open borders fanatic’ is the more common locution). I think we have infinitely too little immigration. I believe migrants (I prefer, virtue-signaller that I am, ‘New Britons’) contribute richly to our economy, culture, social fabric, commercial sector, academic institutions, cuisine, and much else besides. I want it made far easier to come here legally.
But legally it must be. Describing Australia’s border policies, John Howard once said: ‘We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.’ That is a statement that those who share my views should be able to embrace. We are liberals; we are not anarchists. For the public to have confidence in the kind of immigration regime we wish to see, they must first have confidence in their borders. People who feel secure are more open to change. The illicit crossings at the Channel are not about numbers, or even who comes here, but about who decides our migration policies and who they answer to.