Jeremy Corbyn’s half-baked statements about the migration crisis in Europe are not only unhelpful and unsustainable, they’re dangerous.
I was thrilled when I found out just before Christmas that eleven Syrian refugees were to settle in Aberystwyth, my university town. I was looking forward to it for a number of reasons: obviously, that they’d sought refuge from the quagmire that has unfolded in the Middle East, but also, that eleven people, with such a different culture and who’d experienced, but now escaped, such abject misery directly because of war, would be living but a few hundred metres away from me.
One of my first lectures in university concerned Carl Von Clausewitz’s classic text Vom Kreige, a lecture that’ll stay with me. After discussing the “fog of war”, the professor opened a small discussion on the limits of studying war. The last question was “has anyone in here experienced war first hand?” Two girls sat across from me raised their hands timidly, trying not to look surprised. I considered whether I should ask them where they were from. I reasoned it would be tactless to do so and walked out of the lecture theatre trying to compute what I had just witnessed. This experience soberly illustrated the reality of war to me, and that fact I was 19 years old before I met anyone who’d been directly affected by war, speaks volumes of how sheltered a life it’s possible to lead in a country like the UK.
It’s difficult not to feel a sense of compassion when any of your fellow humans are suffering, as individuals. Most of us have a universal sense of duty to do something about it. However, it is vital that with this sense of compassion is mixed a good dose of practicality, something that the German Chancellor Angela Merkel learnt the hard way with her open-door policy. She had temporarily to close her borders because of it, betraying the migrants who understandably started heading towards Germany, only to find out that they were no better off after an often arduous, draining and sometimes hazardous journey from Middle Eastern countries.
A political solution, then, must be based not just on basic human ethics, but cold hard practicality, something that Jeremy Corbyn notoriously lacks in politics. In recent comments, he suggested that the UK should focus more on the migration issues in Europe, more specifically, approximately 3000 migrants in make-shift accommodation in France waiting to have their applications processed. A noble and practical proposition, yes, but then when asked directly whether this action would attract more migrants, his irresponsible reply was “we’re talking 3000 people. It’s not very many.”
This migration crisis, boldly claimed to be the largest movement of people across Europe since the Second World War, poses a very real threat to the European Union, something of which, for now, the UK remains a member. The answer to the question posed to Jeremy Corbyn is, yes of course it will, it will deal with 3000 migrants and entice thousands more. It has been proven that a policy like Merkel’s is calamitous, so why on earth would Britain employ it?
Using precise language in the migration crisis debate is vital. The difference between asylum seekers, migrants and refugees being of paramount importance. At face value they’re basically interchangeable, but they do have some important political distinctions.
Corbyn said “We are not doing anything about the refugee crisis that is actually happening in Europe itself.” I would suggest that we call it a migrant crisis, a migrant only becomes a refugee when they’ve had their application processed to confirm they are actually “fleeing armed conflict or persecution” as the UN categorises. Whereas migrants “choose to move not because of a direct threat of persecution or death, but mainly to improve their lives by finding work, or in some cases for education, family reunion, or other reasons” (again, from the UN).
UK border staff will have to handle migrants and their applications extremely carefully. There’s the very real chance that terrorists could infiltrate groups of genuine refugees and find their way into Britain, after recent attacks by so-called Islamic State (Daesh) we shouldn’t be prepared to take this risk.
There is no simple solution to this problem. However, somewhere between Merkel and David Cameron would be a good start. Cameron, while sending a decent amount of humanitarian aid, has systematically refused to accept refugees from Southern Europe, where there is an even larger migration crisis. If we are to find a solution, we must be fair and compassionate, but more importantly, practical.