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Mark Ellse: Good old army rations not good enough for our rights-savvy refugees


Although the southern part of Cyprus is in the EU, most atlases place Cyprus in Asia and a glance at the map reminds one why that is the case. Off the coast of both Turkey and Syria, it is one of those accidents of history that it is not a formal part of either.

The two British Sovereign Base Areas on Cyprus have a total area of about a hundred square miles and, such is the flux of refugees in the area, it was inevitable that some migrants would land there. Far from being spotted at sea by the vigilant British forces, the rumour is that one group were on the RAF base of Akrotiri for some days before being spotted. But once detected they were on British territory and a source of some embarrassment.

Flush with plenty of cash and with all the latest technology the refugees fitted into the pattern we have come to expect from similar groups. Deprived of safety they may have been; keen to leave their homeland they certainly were; but above everything they were aware of their rights. It was probably Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that first reared its head, which states Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

The immediate sticking point was the food. Anyone who has been a member of the Territorial Army, or associated with a school cadet force, knows about compound rations, or compo. A ten-man pack, including toilet paper (40 sheets), serves ten men for one day or one man for ten days. Compo is marvellous stuff. Well-protected it will last for years. British bases will have huge stocks of it and rotate it regularly by serving a proportion in the messes to keep the stocks fresh.

Compo used all to be tinned. Now an increasing amount is vacuum packed. It is great comfort food containing things like beef in gravy, tinned fruit cake, tinned chocolate. Everyone who has sampled it has their own favourite. It is excellent stuff – except perhaps for those poor refugees arriving in Akrotiri.

One might think that, having escaped from the threat of death in Syria and having reached a place of relative safety, the refugees might pause for breath, recover their strength with a few weeks of the army’s freely provided emergency rations and display some patience as events unfolded. In fact the refugees were unhappy – so unhappy with their general lot that they created a media circus and burnt some of the tents we had provided to shelter them.

They certainly didn’t like compo. They weren’t going to eat it. They wanted McDonalds. While British troops, from highest officer down to lowest footsoldier, were eating their way through their allocation of compo, our people went out to get food that the refugees ‘were happy with’.

When one looks at the UN Article 25, doesn’t one wonder how on earth any sane person could write that? How on earth can we all have a ‘right’ to food? Not only is this ideologically nonsensical, it is a complete delusion. If we were all to sit down on our backsides, would we all have a ‘right’ to food. Would God intervene and feed us all?

Any ability to eat comes from the efforts of someone who has produced or gathered that food. Any ‘right’ to food, or to most other things in life, only comes from the contribution we make to the production of those things. It’s not different for many of the rest of so-called human rights. The ‘right’ to family life is not at all absolute. It is a consequence of those who uphold our society. Those who undermine civil society have no absolute rights. We should have no compunction in requiring them to leave.

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Mark Ellse
Mark Ellse
Mark Ellse is a physicist and author. He is a former headmaster, independent school inspector and A level chief examiner.

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