This week a senior UN apparatchik decided to attack Britain‘s response to the Syrian refugee crisis. The language was as overblown as ever as Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the High Commissioner for human rights, equated the UK’s approach to the inaction of the Évian conference in the 1930s, accusing the Government of echoing those who turned their backs on Europe’s Jews and exhibiting “amnesia” about the Holocaust.
This is both offensive and dangerously incorrect.
Britain has established a far more effective and appropriate response to the crisis than most other nations. The Government’s aid grants (and the British people’s individual donations) have been generous – we are now the second largest donor after the United States.
Just as important as the amounts contributed are how and where they are spent. Ministers have rightly assessed that the people in most need are to be found in Syria and its neighbours. Deploying our aid there not only makes it go further, it means it reaches those who most urgently require it.
Shamefully, the High Commissioner neglects that practical reality. He also neglects the fact that Britain’s policy of helping people in the region saves lives in another way, too. The disastrous policy errors of some European countries have signalled to many in the refugee camps surrounding Syria that it is worthwhile to risk their lives crossing the sea and spending what little they have left on payments to people trafficking gangs. Unknown thousands have died as a result, when they could and should have been helped in safety. Britain’s decision to focus its aid on those in the camps – and to accept 20,000 refugees selected from the camps rather than selected by the monstrous lottery of small boats in the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas – is deliberately intended to counter that deadly trend.
Someone with the clout of a United Nations High Commissioner ought to be more careful in picking his targets and choosing his language. Given that he is a member of the ruling elite of Jordan – a country of eight million people which is now host to a staggering 600,000 Syrian refugees – his personal and professional concern about the crisis is understandable. All of us want to alleviate the human suffering, and supporting Syria’s neighbours in aiding the people crossing their borders is essential.
But what has Prince Zeid achieved by launching this attack? His deployment of comparisons with the 1930s are unhelpful to say the least (and somewhat hypocritical, since UN schools in Jordan itself still refuse to teach the history of the Holocaust). His words do nothing to save more lives – he would do better to encourage other nations to follow Britain’s lead in giving generous assistance in a responsible way.