My Column – What Should #refugeeswelcome Actually Mean?

Let’s remember, as far back as December 2013 a certain Nigel Farage was one of the first to call for us to take our fair share of Syrian refugees. So let’s have none of the nonsense claims stoking untruths and intolerance about Ukip that we hear from the Left of British politics on a daily basis.

Ukip’s always been in favour of helping those genuinely in need, according to our great British traditions. As Nigel Farage said, “I would like to point out that since the inception of this party Ukip has supported our proud tradition of helping those in need in terms of allowing entry to a sensible number of refugees. The problem has come with opening up our borders unconditionally to the whole of the EU.” That exact phrase – ‘proud tradition of helping those in need’ – was in handy pocket-sized guides to Ukip in 2008 (I know, because I wrote and designed the booklet concerned: over three million were produced).

Nothing could be more quintessentially British than the support we gave to refugees fleeing Hitler’s monstrosities during World War II for example. And ISIS’ butchery of all who dare disagree with them is every bit as callous, albeit on a smaller scale.

But in a modern world, a 21st Century crisis where Britain isn’t the major point of entry, the question is about ‘doing our bit’. Being compassionate mustn’t mean being naive, and we forget the law of unintended consequences at our peril: just look at how our involvement in Iraq turned out, because Blair failed to spot that artificially-enforced Westernisation carries risks. As Don MacLean put it years earlier in his famous song “We had to burn the city because they wouldn’t agree, that things work better with democracy”.

So if we use the hashtag #refugeeswelcome we need to make very clear what exactly we’re talking about. As a right-winger I filter my heartfelt desire to help, with careful consideration of whether it’ll actually work. That’s why the (ostensibly) left-wing Labour government of Tony Blair invaded Iraq, whilst we in Ukip said ‘hang on a minute, have we thought this through first?’. Being on the right is about being prepared to take tough decisions. A plan isn’t automatically right just because it hurts us to put it into practice; political masochism might ease my conscience but I need to ask about the consequences – just as Blair failed to do in Iraq. Take in refugees? Yes – but, and this is the crucial bit, not in the way that many are suggesting, which will simply lead to an even greater crisis.

To answer the question in the title, there’s a lot that we could – and should – do without being counterproductive:

1. We want to help those Syrian refugees displaced in countries like Turkey (1.8million), Lebanon (1.2million) and Jordan (over 600,000). This handy map of the region tells a story (but more on that later). Those who are vulnerable, elderly, women and children, and have no money to pay traffickers, generally remain in those countries. They should be a higher priority for our help than generally young, able-bodied men who pay traffickers to illegally traverse safe country after safe country (and who’s to say that money won’t end up financing terrorism?), risking their lives whilst leaving others behind.

2. We don’t welcome those who cynically use the crisis in Syria for their own ends. Those from Bangladesh and elsewhere who try to claim asylum, attempting to capitalise on the Syrians’ suffering, are making life worse for the Syrians.

3. We don’t welcome the European Union’s power grab, manipulating this crisis to seek to seize power over Britain’s borders through a Common Asylum Policy.

4. We don’t welcome those who seek to profit from the misfortune of others, selling pipe dreams and dangerous journeys through Europe from safe country to safe country. Those cruel mercenaries can be stopped, but only through effective border controls.

5. Public opinion is polarised in the UK because we allowed into the country 636,000 new immigrants in the last year. Roughly 96% were economic migrants. If you want to know why some people seem to lack compassion, it’s because our uncontrolled mass immigration system has enormous social consequences and puts many local people out of work. Stem that flow of mass immigration, and the vast majority of people will recognise the legitimate humanitarian concerns over Syria.

6. ISIS has threatened to use the refugee situation as cover to send terrorists into the UK and elsewhere in Europe. We need to take steps to weed out such people.

7. We need to expect the rich Gulf states to do their bit too. According to Amnesty International, six Gulf countries – Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain – have offered zero resettlement places to Syrian refugees. Most of these are some of the richest countries in the world thanks to oil exports. They can afford to help; they should be helping. This isn’t a European crisis, it’s a global crisis. Frankly, Syria’s (near) neighbours should be pulling their weight.

Get this right, and I want us to take our share of refugees. Not from Europe, but from the places where the humanitarian crisis is greatest: Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. I want us to provide humanitarian aid in those countries.

Get it wrong, and our actions become counterproductive – easing consciences without helping to resolve the problem. Compassion? Yes, please. But not naïveté. Naïveté kills people, the very people you claim to want to protect.

The hashtag should probably be:


But that might be a bit too long for Twitter. It’s not a simple, quick-fix soundbite but a nuanced, thought-out message. My heart wants to sign the #refugeeswelcome petition; my head recognises that being compassionate is also about being sensible. I can’t sign up to something that suggests we should be taking people in from Europe – we should be taking them from the countries where the worst crises lie.

You can read this article on my Huffington Post blog here.

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