The leader of the Anglican Church Archbishop Justin Welby, a man given to increasingly bizarre pronouncements, told us in his Christmas sermon that we should show compassion towards refugees crossing the English Channel from France to Britain. I completely agree, if I understand compassion properly as ‘sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.’
Setting off in the dead on night on an unstable raft with your remaining possessions and what is left of your family with a reasonable chance of drowning is both unimaginably stupid and unimaginably desperate. Only the hardest of hearted could not have been deeply moved by the image of a drowned Syrian boy washed up on a British beach several years ago or been horrified by the record numbed of deaths recently when 27 migrants are known to have drowned.
Compassion is easy, costs us little and is usually poorly defined when it comes to specific situations. Even Britain’s most efficient executioner Albert Pierrepoint reportedly showed compassion towards his ‘clients’; he spoke to them politely and reassuringly in the record number of seconds it took him to move a man (and some women) from the condemned cell to the gallows from where they were dropped ‘compassionately’ to an instantaneous death. My question for the archbishop is how do we display our compassion towards refugee migrants?
It is hard to understand how we could be any more compassionate. However, I can well imagine its converse. For example, seagoing migrants arriving within sight of Australia are towed back to whence they came. I do know from my own frequent visits to Singapore that illegal migrants in Singapore are regularly rounded up, imprisoned and then deported.
Illegal refugees to Britain, on the other hand, are rescued by our lifeboats, given blankets and hotel accommodation and then, unlike people in Covid quarantine, every possible opportunity to escape without trace. We have a woeful record of repatriating illegal migrants up to and including some hardened criminals and those whose lives may be endangered if they were returned to their countries of origin. This seems remarkably compassionate to me.
The repeated self-abnegation encouraged by the likes of Welby is typical of the liberal left-wing chattering classes. Their livelihoods and pensions are secure and they do not have to live in close proximity to people whose culture is very different and, willing to work for remarkably low wages, drive down wages for everyone else. Britain is portrayed as the villain in cross channel migration. But we are not responsible for the arrival of migrants in France who could and should have been stopped several borders back. We do not load the migrants into boats and put them in peril on the sea. Furthermore, we do not tow them back or repatriate them once they are picked up.
If we are culpable in the crossing of illegal migrants over the English Channel it is in our compassion. We do next to nothing to discourage the steady flow except feeble efforts to offer to pay the French to do their job of preventing the migrants from boarding their boats. The French complain that we have not paid them but that may be because, demonstrably, they have failed to do their job. It is very hard to envisage what we would be paying for except the maintenance of the French coastguard boats which shepherd migrant boats into British coastal waters.
So, Archbishop Welby, can you not see that it is Britain’s compassion that is the lure that entices refugees, already being looked after in France, to make that final and in some cases fatal crossing to our shores? We welcome genuine asylum seekers and there are tried and tested international conventions on how these should be processed. But some crystal clarity, backed up by action, is needed to show that we will not be a haven for illegal migrants. At the very least they must understand that they will be interned and will face a realistic and well exemplified likelihood of repatriation at least to France. This would most likely be an effective, even compassionate, way of stopping the nightly departures over the dark and dangerous water of the English Channel. That and a new Home Secretary.