BORIS Johnson has announced the UK will accept 20,000 Afghan refugees over the next five years. The EU is putting pressure on member states to do likewise, simultaneously asserting that deportations to Afghanistan for those who have been refused asylum should cease.
Fair-minded, charitable people want to help. We have a long and proud history of doing so, and we like to believe that if we needed sanctuary from persecution, or certain death, some other country would come to our aid.
But . . .
Recent history has taught us that this kindness often extends only one way and the resources for the arrival of large numbers are deducted from existing initiatives. One example of hundreds is the recent plea from Kent county council that they cannot cope with the number of ‘child migrants’. If my own experiences as a former social worker are anything to go by, I would bet everything I own that priority is now given to these children over any other.
During my last few days in social work, I was approached by a boy of 14 who was known to us. He was fatherless and his mother was alcohol-dependent and often cruel, abusive and neglectful. She had thrown the boy out of the house and he had nowhere to sleep that night. I telephoned every contact I had only to be told that they only had funding for refugee children.
The same applied to adults when I was employed by the Salvation Army. Priority for social housing was given to single men from Africa and the Middle East, something Manchester City Council made no secret of.
I’m not a socialist and I don’t tend to boil matters down to pounds and pence, preferring instead to look at the human cost: the changing face of communities, the tensions that arise when one group comes to dominate based on intimidation and violence, the deteriorating aesthetics of a neighbourhood, often considered to be a desirable area less than a decade earlier.
Then there are the issues nobody talks about for fear of being called a racist, that of crimes specifically against women and girls. Writing from Austria about the aftermath of Angela Merkel’s open invitation to refugees in 2014 that saw ‘exhausted refugees spilled out of trains and buses to be met by crowds bearing gifts of clothing and food, and holding up placards that read “Welcome Refugees”,’ one observer, Cheryl Benard, noted it was a honeymoon that could not last.
An unexpected development that was not tolerable, she wrote, was ‘the large and growing incidence of sexual assaults committed by refugees against local women’.
She pointed out that these were not of the cultural-misunderstanding-date-rape sort, but were vicious, no-preamble attacks on random girls and women, often committed by gangs or packs of young men. ‘At first, the incidents were downplayed or hushed up – no one wanted to provide the Right wing with fodder for nationalist agitation, and the hope was that these were isolated instances caused by a small problem group of outliers. As the incidents increased, and because many of them took place in public or because the public became involved either in stopping the attack or in aiding the victim afterwards, and because the courts began issuing sentences as the cases came to trial, the matter could no longer be swept under the carpet of political correctness.’
The incidents she describes were not isolated to Austria. Few will have forgotten the 2015 New Year’s Eve mass sexual assault in Cologne.
For Benard, the wife of Afghan-born US diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad, a puzzling footnote emerged. Most of the assaults she reported were being committed by refugees of one particular nationality: Afghans.
‘It quickly became obvious that something was wrong, very wrong, with these young Afghan men: they were committing sex crimes to a much greater extent than other refugees, even those from countries that were equally or more backward, just as Islamic and conservative, and arguably just as misogynist.’
It gives me no more pleasure than it gave her to shine a spotlight on this, but as her detailed reportage of the series of appalling incidents and their official hushing-up shows, this is something our authorities should be alert to. The problem is that we won’t know who any of these 20,000 newcomers will be, nor is there any chance of obtaining CRB checks for them all. Even if there was, would we trust it?
What makes me increasingly angry and bewildered is this: why is that those who may pose a real threat to our safety appear to matter so much, while we (and our own lost and needy) don’t appear to matter at all, even to the point where the conversation can’t be had in any European country about the many salient points that Cheryl Benard raises in her outstanding article.