There is a vogue for opposing all international aid whatsoever, but the Syrian refugee crisis is a reminder of the case for it. ConservativeHome argued last week that most people seeking to enter Britain aren’t refugees, but economic migrants – like most of the young men filmed trying to tear down fences at Calais, or who Daniel Hannan saw recently getting off an Italian coastguard vessel at Messina. Most of Syria’s refugees are in refugee camps. We will take only a tiny sliver of them, which this site believes is the right decision: indeed, any rise in the number of refugees should be balanced by a fall in the number of other migrants.
But since Syria cannot come to us, we should go to Syria – not in the form of boots-on-the-ground military intervention (though our readers strongly support air strikes against ISIS) but in that of aid. Britain is, of course, doing much already, though one wouldn’t grasp this from much of the media coverage of the crisis, which surreptitiously suggests that Syria’s civil war and the death of migrants is somehow all our fault – rather than that of Assad, whose troops shoot pregnant women for kicks; of ISIS, which crucifies its Christian opponents and others, or of the gangmasters whose living is made by packing desperate people into flimsy boats.
Indeed, over £1 billion has been committed to help the Syrian refugees, including food, water, and medical care. On one calculation, more than has been spent by the Netherlands, Hungary, Poland, Italy, France and Germany combined. (And, yes, that’s the same Germany whose politicians are lecturing us about taking more refugees). According to DfId, those food rations have helped over 18 million people, over one and a half million have gained access to clean water, and almost half a million have received medical care. £500 million will be spent inside Syria itself.
You or may not agree with this mix of taking only a very few refugees from Syria but spending a lot of taxpayers’ money on them at source. But all the evidence suggests that, in making it, ConservativeHome is where voters are. Support for aid peaks when pollsters ask about earthquakes and catastrophes; falls slightly for the provision of food, clean water, and medical treatment elsewhere, and drops further for nation-building (schools, infrastructure, security, and so on). Four in five of our readers believe that money spent protecting children from polio is well spent, according to the last survey that we undertook on aid. But fewer than half of them believe that “aid can stop failing states becoming tomorrow’s rogue states”.
We opposed putting an aid spending target into law, and believe that virtue isn’t measured by having one. But for all the waste in international development spending, the case for spending money on refugees is as sturdy as ever. This helps to explain why ConservativeHome is very pleased once again to be holding a reception at Party Conference this year with Save the Children. And finally, a salutary footnote on polling. There is a palaver over a Survation poll today that finds a majority would vote to leave the EU. In the excitement about this finding, another may be missed. A mere 15 per cent of respondents would take 10,000 refugees. The biggest proportion – 30 per cent – would take not a single one.