“No-one wants them” – BBC on stranded refugees

The BBC reported today on a boat filled with desperate people in the Andaman Sea. Apparently ten people on the boat have already died from starvation or dehydration, while others are resorting to drinking urine. 350 Rohingya people, from Myanmar, are said to be aboard, drifting, having been refused entry to Thailand.

This is just one of many such boats currently drifting off the coasts of Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. The Rohingya are one of the most oppressed ethnic/religious minorities in the world, having no recognition as citizens in Myanmar, and therefore having experienced constant persecution.

According to the BBC’s Jonathan Head, who can be seen in a video at the top of that report, “no-one wants them”. It’s quite striking when a journalist feels able to make that kind of judgement. But that is the world we live in.

Closer to home, meanwhile, the European Union has this week announced a new approach on its own “migrant” crisis, which follows the decision to scrap Mare Nostrum in October last year. This involves a new quota system aimed at allowing in a higher number of people (20,000 over two years) and distributing them fairly across member states. Even this reasonably moderate proposal was met with total rejection by Britain’s Home Secretary, Theresa May, who claims that these people leaving war-torn countries and despotic regimes are merely “economic migrants”, and that we shouldn’t encourage them.

The EU’s approach also contains some far more worrying plans. In particular, the proposal for a “military campaign” to “smash” smuggling networks should strike fear into the heart of any reasonably compassionate person. The Guardian reported that this would be at least an air and naval campaign – but that it might also include “a presence ashore”, which is a quite spectacularly horrifying euphemism.

This is all awful, of course. Both situations have been created by a lack of liberty – both in terms of the countries from which these people have already fled, and in terms of the response from the rich old nations to which they want to flee. The solution cannot lie in reducing freedom yet further. Whether it is Indonesia or Britain, the reality is that by turning such people away, you are actively choosing to contribute to their deaths.

Moreover, “cracking down” on the smuggling networks – as I’ve suggested before – is meaningless without providing a legal, safe alternative. It is not as if these people want to use such networks. They use them because they have no other choice. The smuggling networks are a classic black market, created by prohibition; they’re the equivalent of bootleg liquor or cocaine cut with ground glass. Except instead of intoxicants or narcotics, these people just want to live in a place that isn’t so irredeemably screwed up beyond repair that their very lives are worthless. And they’re willing to do anything – literally anything – to get to that place.

Any of us would do the same. And this is the biggest irony of all. The very hope that these people embody is another side of the “aspiration” that conservatives preach to their citizens. The same hope that drives people to get into rickety boats and drift for weeks without food or water is what is supposed to drive people in UK JCPs to keep applying endlessly for the same McJob.

It doesn’t seem to have occurred to conservative, aggressive, anti-immigration governments that shutting these people out doesn’t just tell them no-one wants them. It sends a message to anyone without hope: get out and stay out, because we don’t want your type here.

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The real impact of anti-immigrant sentiment: death and shame

Stephen Bush of the New Statesman has a very important article on “Mare Nostrum” – an Italian government policy given EU backing, providing search-and-rescue operations for illegal migrants crossing the Mediterranean sea.

The scheme has saved over 150,000 refugees’ lives. But, says Bush:

the cost to the Italian government – close to €9m a month – far outstripped the European subvention, and other member states, facing pressure from anti-immigration sentiment at home, were reluctant to continue funding the scheme, including the British government. Baroness Anelay, a Conservative minister at the Foreign Office, told the House of Lords that there were concerns that continuing the rescue operation could be a “pull factor”, drawing more migrants to make the dangerous journey.

Anelay’s answer got some attention at the time.

People are dying. And we don’t know about it because it doesn’t fit the narrative. This is the real impact of anti-immigrant sentiment. So next time you look at Nigel Farage and see a sweaty, inconsequential buffoon, think again. His agenda brings death to our continent and shame to our nation.

A Further Thought on #LabourMugs

Over the weekend, there was discussion of a certain product being offered on the Labour Party website. Specifically, it was a mug in glorious Fabian red, for the princely sum of £5, bearing the words of Labour’s fourth most important policy (if we are to assume that their pledge card is ranked in order of priority): “Controls on Immigration”.

Labour’s now infamous mug

Various people, including me, commented on the unpleasantness of the mug itself. This then led of course to further discussion of the pledge, and the fact that it is a marker for quite how far the Labour Party is prepared to go in abandoning any pretence of liberalism, or, indeed, “solidarity” that extends beyond the UK’s borders. A final irony is that the other four pledges Labour are making are heavily reliant on continuing high levels of migration, so that the UK can get the workers it needs. After all, as we know, migrants (especially those from the EU) have a far more positive impact on the UK’s fiscal state than UK-born citizens.

Of course, there has been a backlash to the criticism, although it’s been relatively muted. Ed Balls has been out and about defending the policy (and the mug) today, although other senior members of the Labour Shadow Cabinet have indicated their displeasure at the merchandise.

I’ve noticed that some of the backlash has been based on the same lie as the policy itself. The very phrase “controls on immigration”, of course, implies that at the moment we don’t have any. This has been reflected in the response by some people to the Twitterati’s anger: Hugo Rifkind, for example, asking Julian Huppert whether the Lib Dem position was “that there should be no controls on immigration”. I’ve seen other people asking broadly the same question; does opposing “controls on immigration” mean supporting “open borders”?

Quite obviously, this isn’t the case. The Lib Dems are of course the only major party in the UK as a whole to talk positively about immigration on a regular basis. But that doesn’t mean that the party supports open borders. For example, in government, we have been attempting to reintroduce exit checks despite the Home Office’s incompetence and intransigence.

But the wider point is more important still. What Labour are doing is simply capitulation. They have thrown in the towel and gone along with the pervasive lie that claims the UK is open to the elements and all sorts of nefarious types have come in to ruin things. This is the lie perpetrated most effectively by UKIP, and before them, the BNP.

We are now living in a country where the three parties polling highest are willing to blame our problems on immigrants. And it’s so uncontroversial that they can sell cheap tat telling you so. It’s a suggestion beloved of such people that we haven’t had a debate about immigration, but the truth is they don’t want one. Because everything’s simpler when you can blame it on someone else.