It is not simply sports presenters who find the Illegal Migration Bill brought forward by the Home Secretary “immeasurably cruel”; so do many others. The Bill is designed to stop small boats. UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, has said it would be a clear breach of the 1951 Refugee Convention which defines refugees as those seeking refuge from persecution.
Caroline Noakes, a Tory MP, will not be voting for this either – the fifth piece of legislation meant to have “solved” the problem and that has clearly failed to: “I think we have an absolute duty to treat people humanely, to keep people safe. I have absolute horror at the prospect,” Noakes says. She does not want to see children and pregnant women criminalized.
Now, you can call all this virtue-signalling and argue about a tweet and the idiocy of the BBC management, or you can ask if this Bill is fair or even workable. The answer in both cases is, clearly not.
The horrible escalation of language is inescapable, with the hapless Suella Braverman talking about an “invasion on the South Coast” when the reality is traumatized people in leaky dinghies, risking everything. She goes on to breakfast television and raises the possibility of 100 million displaced people coming here – that is not going to happen, as the great majority of them are still trapped in their own countries. When asked at a committee by another Tory MP, Tim Loughton, what the safe and legal way for a 16-year-old orphan from a war-torn African country would be to claim asylum, Braverman could not answer the question. Her stance may be red meat to the head bangers but is it not embarrassing to have a Home Secretary who is so clueless?
This Bill effectively prohibits any asylum claims. Anyone who arrives here illegally, ie by boat, is deemed inadmissible. There are no exemptions for children. They can be removed and will never be allowed back. Meanwhile, they have to be detained at huge expense. Even if you think sending them to Rwanda is a good idea, in fact hardly anyone has been sent there and Rwanda would only ever accommodate hundreds, not thousands of people. It is a farcical scheme. Instead, we need to strengthen the ways in which migrants can claim asylum.
Rishi Sunak has bunged the French some money to build another detention center and buy some drones and it feels like déjà vu. These punitive measures to stop people getting here have been going on for decades and they don’t work. On the French side, Sangatte was shut in 1992. The Jungle was bulldozed in 2016. I went to the Jungle – it was hellish but organized; far worse were the woods of Grande-Synthe, near Dunkirk, where families, mostly Kurdish, were living in freezing mud. There was no water or sanitation as no humanitarian standards had to be maintained.
I saw Afghan kids with scabies sleeping in a ditch, many torture scars, men with dislocated shoulders from being hit off the fence, and the sheer brutality of the French police was visible. Why do they want to come here and not stay in France, is the question that is always asked. Well, if you have been there, you may understand why. For a start, many do – most of those seeking sanctuary in Europe never get to Calais. Germany takes a quarter of asylum applications, France next, then Italy. Gary Lineker was right to say we take fewer refugees than other nations. Anyone who has made it to Calais has probably been near death several times – it’s just one more risk to get here. Often people have family in the UK and speak English.
What makes someone get on a pathetic inflatable in the middle of the night? You think it’s simply “benefits”? Why do we want to open our homes to Ukrainians but despise everyone else? When I returned from Calais, I was so disturbed by what I had seen that I volunteered at a refugee drop-in center. Some people I met were, to be blunt, economic migrants. They had come to work and send money home. The Syrians in particular were highly educated, and I felt some hope that they could make lives here. Others were in a bad way and just about clinging on, living with their kids in one room. Far from “working the system”, they had little idea how to get basic stuff like school meals for the kids.
Now, you can hate these people all you like and pretend this island nation has no obligations to the rest of the world. You can threaten and detain migrants but that has not worked. You can ignore pictures of dead toddlers on beaches, and you can spread vile rhetoric. Just don’t call it politics, because it isn’t. It is denial that we live in an inter-connected world. It is a denial of our duty, of international law, of common humanity.
This country is surely better than that.