Politics

The Guardian view on deaths in the Channel: the tide of xenophobia | Editorial


Boris Johnson’s government must develop a new approach to asylum as a matter of urgency. The deaths of 27 people who were attempting to reach England in a small boat on Wednesday have prompted an outpouring of distress. No one wants the Channel to become a graveyard, and the stricken faces of the people interviewed by journalists in northern France over recent days have brought home their sheer desperation to millions of Britons.

But unless Mr Johnson and his most senior colleagues and advisers take the lead in setting out a different direction, there is no reason to think that this tragedy will mark any kind of turning point. At the moment, the government appears trapped in a snare of its own making – along with the section of the public that it took with it when ministers decided to talk and act tough on asylum seekers. This is what led to the shameful situation in which the main response to this week’s tragedy is to blame the French. The government push for morally and legally dubious legislation designed to create an even more hostile environment is justified by claims that the number of people seeking asylum is overwhelming.

It is the case that with 23,000 small-boat arrivals so far, this year’s total will exceed the 8,400 who came in 2020. Overall, the 37,562 claims for asylum lodged in the year to September are an increase. But in the early 2000s, that figure was more than 80,000. And several of the UK’s European neighbours are currently managing similar numbers: there have been around 80,000 applications so far this year in Germany, 70,000 in France, and 60,000 arrivals by boat in Italy.

Intercontinental migration and refugees fleeing war and persecution are major global issues that require a joined-up international approach, as the Refugee Council’s Enver Solomon said this week. What makes this all the more important is that global heating is predicted to increase migration, as parts of the world become hotter and harder to live in. The people risking their lives to reach England’s south coast come from some of the world’s most troubled countries: Eritrea, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen.

They make the journey that they do for a reason: because they have relatives or friends in Britain, or historic links, or speak English (one of those who reached Kent by boat this week is reported to be an Afghan soldier who worked with British forces). Once they reach the UK, nearly two-thirds of those arriving by small boat are allowed to stay.

This is the context that the public needs to understand, and that experts are now doing their best to explain. There is no doubt that, as the Kent Conservative MP Damian Collins said on Thursday, some voters find the boats unsettling. A government mindful of its responsibilities would seek to allay concerns about localised resource pressures (such as housing) and work with partners to find solutions, both to the immediate challenge of people camped in miserable conditions on borders and the wider geopolitical causes. This would include a cessation of arms sale to Saudi Arabia, to protect Yemen, and the restoration of the portion of the UK’s global aid budget that was inexcusably cut.

Unfortunately, Mr Johnson and his home secretary, Priti Patel, reveal no desire to drop the xenophobic rhetoric. Rather than distance themselves from Nigel Farage and the Tory MP Sir Edward Leigh for cruel remarks about the RNLI operating a “taxi service”, they prefer to pander to the basest instincts. Condemnations of traffickers appear more and more mindless the longer they are unaccompanied by meaningful action, such as an honest discussion about the safe and legal routes to the UK that would reduce demand for dangerous crossings. Ms Patel’s demand for British “boots on the ground” in France seems designed to inflame. Once again, the Home Office is at the heart of an ugly spectacle.



READ SOURCE

Leave a Reply

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.