My Column – We have a moral duty to accept our fair share of refugees

As a UKIP member of the European Parliament, the next sentence comes with a number of caveats.

I believe, as a matter of moral duty, that we in the United Kingdom should be prepared to take our fair share of refugees from the current crisis caused by ISIS. Our ill-conceived, disastrous, woolly-minded involvement in Iraq contributed to the conditions necessary for ISIS to thrive and we must shoulder some responsibility ourselves.

We have always had a proud tradition of helping refugees. From the Huguenots, where roughly 50,000 people were settled in the UK over a 40-year period, to 120,000 Russian Jews over a 33-year period at the turn of the 20th century, we have always been a helping nation prepared to show support to those in need.

These movements of people fleeing into Britain, part of the history books which we learn about in school, rarely touched 5,000 a year and fade into insignificance when we consider the numbers of economic migrants arriving in the UK today.

In just one year to March 2015, we allowed 636,000 new people into the country: almost equivalent to the combined populations of Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough. This may just be scratching the surface; for example, the official figures show 53,000 immigrants from Romania/Bulgaria in the year ending June 2015 – but 214,000 from those countries registered for National Insurance numbers.

In the long-term barely 4% of those we allow into the country are those fleeing persecution. 96% of legal immigration is either through our own economic choice (non-EU) or the free-for-all open-door EU policy.

When Cameron picks on the 4% as easy targets, using dehumanising language like ‘swarm’, I am disgusted. I want us to be firm but fair on the 96%, making sure that those coming to the UK for economic reasons bring skills to benefit our economy.

We also need better security at Calais and our ports. Dangerous journeys across a string of ‘safe’ countries are unacceptable, with no border checks due to the Schengen Agreement on the continent, for people to risk their lives to move from one country to another. Frankly, Schengen contributes towards human suffering as there are no controls preventing unscrupulous traffickers from smuggling refugees across Europe, from safe country to safe country, in the most appalling conditions. Nor am I naive enough to believe that everyone crossing the Mediterranean are actually refugees: tens of thousands from Bangladesh, for example, are known to have used the cover of the crisis to make the journey to Greece and Italy for economic reasons. Such behaviour worsens the conditions and misery of those genuinely fleeing persecution.

Twenty illegal immigrants have just been caught at the Port of Tyne, on a ferry from Amsterdam to the UK. I have every sympathy with genuine refugees fleeing persecution from appalling and brutal conditions in Syria and elsewhere. But no refugees are being persecuted in Holland, and those arriving in North Shields intended to break the law; I am glad that 15 illegal immigrants have already been returned to Holland and hope that the rest will face a similar journey soon. Those facilitating this illegal act should face the full force of the law and, if convicted, should face a stiff penalty designed to deter others contemplating similar crimes.

But in my view that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t – voluntarily, not at the behest of the likes of Angela Merkel putting a gun to our heads – agree to take a share of the massive numbers of refugees. Dead children wash up on a Turkish beach, their journey from war-torn Syria to the Greek island of Kos ending in tragedy. We share a human responsibility.

The UK must have the final say over our own borders, decide our own immigration and asylum policy – but the European Union seeks to turn this crisis, like every crisis into an opportunity to push for ‘more Europe’ and a power-grab to move power from nation states to Brussels. The European Union clearly wants a Common Asylum Policy, and frankly I don’t trust the EU to decide such matters for us.

This is my dilemma as a UKIP MEP. We need to be caring people, willing to do our bit and help out. We want to live up to our heritage and tradition of helping those in need. Yet we’re being sucked into a political vacuum: caught between the rock of being uncaring and the hard place of handing over power to the EU. We’re asked to choose between the current record levels of immigration, and even more immigration.

I’ve had letters from constituents on both sides: those believing we should ‘do our bit’ to help people who have been through the most appalling of conditions, and those who bemoan mass immigration or want us to abide by the law, not pander to the chaos in Calais. In a way, they’re both right. We’re being given false choices: there has to be another way. A way to be human, caring, thoughtful – and dare I say it, British – without permitting current levels of mass economic immigration with all its attendant social problems.

You can read this article on The Chronicle website here.

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