The migrants heading to Britain bring with them a world of opportunityby AC Grayling / August 20, 2015 / Leave a comment
Put yourself in the shoes of a migrant at Calais, hoping to get to a place which is stable and peaceful, where there is the chance of work, where a language is spoken that you know. You have taken risks, sometimes great risks, and have paid hugely in money and the emotions of parting from family and everything familiar.
You might be a qualified teacher or engineer in your own country. It is possible that you have risked and paid so much in the hope of living a life of ease on British welfare benefits, getting medical treatment for free. But if so you are one of the very few. Those who have ventured riskily across thousands of kilometres to escape hell and to find a better life are not the lazy sort.
Think of matters this way and you see them in a more humane light. It puts into perspective the two major problems that the Calais migrants represent, neither of which can bear delay in being addressed.
One is the geographically immediate problem of treating the migrants decently, sorting out which among them is a genuine asylum seeker fleeing danger, and which is an economic migrant. To the former we might extend the hand of succour as we so often and magnificently did in the past, from Huguenots to Vladimir Lenin and the Jewish children of the Kindertransport in the 1930s.
Read more on migrants:
Inside Rome’s Termini Station
Four Calais migrant myths debunked
David Cameron’s Calais plan won’t work
To the latter we might offer some discernment. Which among them brings skills and experience, thus something to offer along with their desire to offer it? To those who neither come from danger nor have more than their hands and will to offer, let us give them a hearing and make a judgement. The second problem is the reason why tens of thousands are being driven out of the Middle East and North Africa by the breakdown of society there. We do well to remember that it is not just our jet bombers and troops who have contributed to the current collapse of the region, but it was our—and this time “our” is especially the United Kingdom—imperial imperatives in and immediately after the First World War that created the unstable arrangements which have become an international running sore.
John Maynard Keynes said to Winston Churchill when the latter was presiding as Colonial Secretary over the Cairo Conference in 1921: “If you cut up the map of the Middle East with a pair of scissors you will still be fighting wars there in 100 years’ time.”
It is no credit to British Middle Eastern state-making at that time that the region remained superficially stable until the 1970s: it did so because it lay—and too much of it still does—under dictatorships. These removed, hell has broken loose.
But we cannot take all the blame. The religion that benights the region, and the society it creates—with half the population actually or functionally disenfranchised, and half of that half illiterate also; with very little oxygen for civil society organisations and activities to flourish outside religious control; with politics a matter of sect and tribe—has much to answer for.
One of the ironies of migrancy is that people leave theocracies because of the many kinds of impoverishment they cause, only to adhere to the source of the trouble—those very beliefs—and for them to begin to cause problems in the liberal and open host countries to which they fled to escape those problems. At least part of the solution to the problem causing people to leave their home countries is for those countries to adopt the values and practices of the countries that immigrants leave them for.
That is unlikely to happen soon. Whatever else can be done to help the regions from where the flows of migrants come, it has to include staunching the reverse flow of money and arms to the anarchy of competing forces there, defeating criminal organisations like Islamic State, reconfiguring borders, disentangling hostile groups, relentlessly pursuing a peace agenda, and aiding prosperity. All a good deal easier to say than do; but the efforts currently being made look worse than half-hearted.
And the traffickers? There might be Schindlers among them. But most are merely criminals profiting from despair and hope, and too often adding tragedy to tragedy.
There is an unhealthy tendency in today’s Britain to pull down the shutters and bar the doors, to turn inward, to narrow the apertures through which the rest of the world is seen. This applies to migrants, to membership of the European Union, even to the nationalisms that seek to shut the internal doors of our own house.
Perhaps the greater mobility of the world’s people has alarmed us and made us feel besieged. Perhaps if we matched the courage and determination of migrants with our own, we would not take such a timid stance, but would welcome the opportunities that the times are bringing to our shores.