Neither the EU nor Britain has got to grips with the issue of immigration

Kate Thick argues that migration is vital to Britain - and that if we really want to cut it we need to work harder to level up the world

Philip Toscano/PA Wire Migrants trying to board UK bound lorries on the main road into Calais ferry port
Migrants trying to board UK bound lorries on the main road into Calais ferry port

Repelling the so-called barbarian at the gate has awful political and humanitarian edges.

Almost half of British people want refugees – including those fleeing civil war in Syria – to be turned away.

All of Europe is flummoxed. Nobody knows what to do. Meanwhile, millions of refugees are condemned to a life of misery in the worst displacement crisis since the second world war.

One in every 122 humans on the planet is a refugee, internally displaced or seeking asylum. One in five of them is Syrian. In reality, few of them are knocking on our doors; nearly 90% of refugees are stuck in the least developed or developing countries. They are in need of an unprecedented humanitarian response.

We need a long-term strategy, home and abroad, as climate change is predicted to bring larger numbers of the desperate to our shores.

A rights group called on EU states to prioritise saving lives over domestic immigration policies and to resettle 1.5 million refugees over the next five years – easy as there is lots of space for them. The group also suggests creating a refugee fund, holding a global summit, and ratifying the UN’s refugee convention.

Debate in Europe is fractious. The desperate humans stuck in Calais or packing into boats on the Mediterranean are unwelcome. Walls and barbed wire, police and soldiers are herding them into squalid camps while we dither and bicker. Many of them are unaccompanied children and teenagers who take extraordinary risks and now find themselves locked up in detention centres.

The agreement by EU leaders reached last week to relocate migrants is, to put it politely, modest. Member states sparred even over the current proposals to settle a mere 60,000 refugees, 40,000 of them already in the EU. The UK has opted out of EU asylum policy, while nations in eastern Europe refused to accept set quotas so it will only be voluntary. The debate will continue, nothing has been settled for the short or long term.

Cameron said Britain would take “a few hundred” more than the 500 war-displaced Syrians it has so far offered to accept. The UN refugee agency gives the number uprooted by Syria’s civil wars at nearly four million.

Many thousands are also fleeing chaos – from violence and poverty, insurgent groups like ISIS, forced conscription, attacks on villages and schools, rape and other human rights abuses - in Eritrea, Somalia and other countries of sub-Saharan Africa.

Only a tiny number have reached EU countries. I feel ashamed, to be honest. Cameron’s non-policy is shockingly inhuman.

The super-rich live in a borderless world. The poor hit barrier after barrier. We are in danger of the poorer south fracturing from the wealthier north. A fortress Europe could reap untold consequences.

It is a massive, complicated crisis and we had better get to grips with it. Solutions are politically difficult, unpopular and very expensive. Put simply, the international community needs to work a lot harder to level up the world by investing more in development, opportunity and equality. No easy task to put it mildly given impunity for those starting conflicts and the dismal failure of the international community to work together to secure peace.

Cameron’s approach is daft. New stringent immigration rules will mean thousands of nurses from overseas who have worked here for years will have to leave the UK at a large cost to the NHS.

The government justifies this policy because of its target to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands. Business leaders are dismayed at the cap on non-European migrants – representing only 3% of Britain’s annual inflow of immigrants - as they cannot find enough skilled British workers.

Einstein was a refugee. Refugees have made a huge contribution to the world. We have an ageing Europe with a falling birthrate and economies dependent on immigrant labour. Some sectors of our economy would wither without them. Better then that we plan – and fund – the schools, jobs, homes and hospitals needed to ensure that the expanding numbers add up to advantages for all.

Higher net migration has raised the UK population but only 13% in England and Wales were born abroad and 8% are non-British nationals. We are all the richer for them.


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