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Paul Vallely: Don’t believe the migration myths

03 December 2021

The UK should not abandon its obligations to refugees, argues Paul Vallely

Alamy

Refugees wave as the Duke of Cambridge leaves a hotel in Leeds, which is being used to accommodate people evacuated from Afghanistan, on Tuesday

Refugees wave as the Duke of Cambridge leaves a hotel in Leeds, which is being used to accommodate people evacuated from Afghanistan, on Tuesday

IT IS one way of drawing attention to yourself, I suppose. The Times columnist and former Conservative MP, Matthew Parris, has proposed that Britain should abandon its assent to the Geneva Convention as it relates to refugees. It was designed for a temporary resettlement programme after the Second World War, he suggests, and is not appropriate for today’s seemingly unending migrant crisis.

Mr Parris bases his argument on the supposition that the British, like all island peoples, will always take a hard line against settlers arriving uninvited in boats. This supposed fact is underscored by the fact that the number of people who have illegally crossed the Channel this year is ten times the number who arrived in 2019. To defend territory against intruders is an animal impulse that cannot be ignored, he opines.

There are many myths about immigration put about by politicians seeking votes or readers. Prime among these is the idea that there are a few genuine refugees escaping persecution, but a flood of what Mr Parris calls “chancers” who have come to steal our jobs.

What gives the lie to this commonplace is the fact that almost 75 per cent of these illegal immigrants eventually have their applications of political asylum approved by the Home Office. About two-thirds of them are fleeing conflict and persecution in Iran, Syria, Iraq, Sudan, and Eritrea. Among Syrians, 88 per cent are granted asylum or leave to remain, as are 80 per cent of those fleeing Eritrea.

Then there is the idea that all migrants want to come to Britain. Again, not true. France accepted 150,000 asylum-seekers last year, in comparison with just 30,000 in the UK — perhaps because, contrary to the myth that Britain offers more generous benefits, payments in France are higher. France also allows asylum-seekers to find jobs, unlike British politicians who enforce idleness on them.

Another myth is that French politicians allow an unobstructed tide of migrants to cross the English Channel in flimsy boats. The reality is that co-operation is good between Britain and France behind the scenes; it is only in public that our Government seeks to cover the failures of Brexit with belligerent Francophobic bombast.

But the greatest myth is the idea that the British are hostile to strangers. That is not the story told by the piles of shoes and clothing provided by the people of Manchester when Afghan refugees arrived here after the fall of Kabul with only the clothes they stood up in.

The tragic deaths of 27 people in the Channel last week have given a human face to the problem. The young man who braved the deadly waters to earn money for his sister’s medical treatment; the bride hoping for a surprise reunification with her husband; the family who received a voice message asking “just pray for us” — all these force us to stop seeing “migrants” and start seeing people.

Matthew Parris is wrong. It is not the Geneva Convention that is our source of inspiration: it is a basic British decency rooted in two millennia of Christianity which tells us that there, but for the grace of God, go we. And that is a realisation to which we can never abandon our assent.

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