This has been a dangerous week for those who want the United Kingdom to be a generous nation in terms of the number of refugees we admit. Pictures of those arriving in this country claiming to be children, but who are clearly adults, has rightly caused considerable anger. Public sympathy could quickly switch to indignation at a sense that the world is laughing at us.
For those on the Left the response was to suppress or deny the reality. BBC presenter Gary Lineker claimed that one of the older looking new arrivals was an interpreter and complained about age checks being “hideously racist”. Home Office officials corrected Lineker and made clear that the person in question was not an interpreter but was indeed a refugee claiming to be under 18. Naturally Lineker shows no sign of apologising to The Sun for his inaccurate attack on their coverage. Nor do the BBC show much interest in taking any action against him for his disregard of their rules on impartiality.
Earlier this week David Davies, the Conservative MP for Monmouthshire, suggested that dental age checks for those claiming to be children but who look much older. Cue shrieks of indignation. But what alternative has the Government offered to provide public reassurance? The British Dental Association says such tests will not be exact . But they don’t need to be. Just close enough to establish if someone is closer to 30 than 18. They are widely used in other countries.
Then we had Andrew Selous, the Home Office Minister, reject the idea of dental checks as “inappropriate”. Does he think the current farce is “appropriate”? Nothing could be more damaging to the case for offering sanctuary to more refugees than such a dismissive response.
In other respects the Home Office rules are damagingly restrictive. Refugees arriving here are banned from supporting themselves by working. There are also inflexible Home Office guidelines regarding the Syrian Vulnerable Peoples Relocation scheme prohibiting the use of spare rooms. Only self contained accommodation may be considered. Those both increases the cost and delays finding the space needed.
There also needs to be a clear message from the Government about the dangers of encouraging more people smuggling by taking refugees from Europe. It is far better to take them from the camps in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. According to the UNHCR 6,300 refugees have drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean during the last 18 months. Those in Europe with a legal right to enter the UK – due to their family already being here – she be swiftly admitted. But otherwise granting settlement to those in Europe in preference to those nearer Syria sends out a dangerous signal.
Often those who assume the tabloid press are anti refugees regardless of the circumstances are those who tend to read other papers. As the Daily Mail editorial this morning reminds us the paper was “a prominent voice in urging ministers to offer sanctuary to unaccompanied children fleeing war zones.” It adds:
“If luvvies and the Left were serious about supporting those most desperately in need, wouldn’t they echo sensible demands to stamp out the abuse through proper age checks? Or do they prefer to live in their own make-believe world, in which the truth is whatever they want it to be?”
One of the arguments for Brexit was to have control of our borders, lower overall immigration and thus capacity to take more refugees. But the Home Office Ministers need to stop deferring to their bureaucrats and show some leadership. Otherwise public goodwill on this issue will be lost.