Nus Ghani a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee and MP for Wealden.
It’s an irony that the first thing Jeremy Corbyn did as Labour’s Leader was to attend a rally for refugees. Ironic because his election as Leader of the Opposition has knocked the plight of refugees off the front pages. What is not ironic, in any sense of the word, is that his election increases the likelihood that Britain will not be able to face up to its responsibilities to tackle the evil that is forcing those refugees from their homes.
No one can have failed to be deeply moved by the picture of Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body on a Turkish beach. We can do nothing for Aylan but mourn, but while our consciences cry out to act now and act with compassion, it is our hard-headed duty to address the root causes and ask the difficult questions.
The Prime Minister’s announcement that Britain will take 20,000 refugees is a start. It’s particularly important that those refugees will be taken from camps around Syria because it is the women and children who often remain behind and cannot make the arduous journey to safety. These are the most vulnerable, where our duty and consciences collide.
But beyond the compassionate response, we must do all we can to deter the people traffickers peddling false hope by selling death in airless lorries and cramming families onto leaking dinghies. For we are seeing levels of people movements not experienced since the Second World War, or indeed since the partition of India and Pakistan, when over one million people perished and many millions more were left homeless and were settled elsewhere.
These are the stories I grew up with – tales of relatives struggling to get over their journeys or losing their loved ones. And the lessons of that time are the lessons for today, that a global crisis such as this needs a coordinated international response. And every country involved must answer questions as to their role.
So it is entirely justified that we ask whether Turkey’s unwelcoming attitude towards Kurds such as Aylan, the one group proven to have taken the fight to ISIS, hasn’t made the situation worse. As it is right that we ask what Arab-speaking countries are doing in the region. It is not enough for them to speak passionately about Muslim solidarity, but to fail to step up to the plate in the midst of this crisis. We should ask why none of the Gulf countries have signed the 1951 Refugee Convention and we should make our own aid to them conditional on acceptance of international norms.
Finally, we must be prepared to tackle the fundamental cause of the instability wreaking havoc in the Middle East. Wahhabi extremism is the cancer that has destroyed the body politic of Syria and Iraq. ISIS needs to be destroyed and there can be no ‘political solution’ until that happens.
Which is why Britain cannot duck its responsibility to take the fight directly to ISIS, and act with strength and compassion by intervening militarily in the region. Strength in our fight against this evil, and compassion for those who currently live in fear of that evil and whose lives are blighted by it. We must hold our nerve and consider effective military intervention at the earliest opportunity.
And this is why Jeremy Corbyn poses a threat, because it is hard to imagine him seeing any of the above as our responsibility, not to mention him supporting air strikes against ISIS. His irresponsible relationships with organisations that pose a very real threat to the UK, and his reckless opposition to military intervention for any reason, put at risk our ability to defend our own people and to protect those who need our help.
Now is not the time to lose our nerve in the Middle East. We bear responsibility towards the region going back decades or even centuries and we are one of the few powers that can project beyond our own borders. The Government must hold its nerve and show that it takes Britain’s responsibilities seriously. It cannot let itself be thrown off course by a Leader of the Opposition who does not.