If it were possible to strip some of the emotion out of the immigration debate then I suspect there would be more consensus about what policies are justified and would work. Few reasonable people would argue that there is never a case to admit any refugee into Britain under any circumstance. Equally even the most enthusiastic champion of refugee rights would probably accept that it isn’t possible for the UK to offer a home to every economic migrant who would like to move here.
Unveiling the latest three-word slogan
Carefully and reasonably stripping out emotion and establishing a balanced and rational policy is not what the latest incarnation of the Conservative government is doing. Instead it is focusing on sound bites and pursuing a deeply cynical attempt to use the issue to claw its way back from record lows in the polls.
The first question that should be asked of public policy is: “Will it work to achieve what its designers have set out to achieve?”
The answer has to be a resounding no.
Populist policies crumble when exposed to reality
Imagine the situation. A boatload of people arrives on the Kent coast. Amongst them there is a family from Afghanistan headed up by a woman who worked as a translator for the British Army and was in hiding for months before she managed to get the kids over the border. They are a five-year-old and a seven-year-old.
When they arrive in Britain they will be arrested because they have broken the new law and the adults will be deported at the first opportunity. The children will be allowed to stay. How exactly are the Afghan family to be taken to the plane? Will it be the police who will drag the mother away from the children? Will the armed forces that she helped at risk to her own life be called on to help out with the job? Where will the children be housed after the parents have left? Where will they be educated and how will they be brought up? And what is going to be their fate when children who have been brought up largely in Britain are forced to leave the country at the age of 18 which is what the new law requires?
Next consider where those adults are to be sent to. It is physically impossible to send them back to the camps in Calais because the French would refuse to take them and no matter how rabid a hater of everything associated with the EU someone is they won’t be able to find a way of changing that reality. Indeed part of the reason for the significant drop in returning people to France is that we lost many of the rights to do that when we left the EU.
Further flaws of an inhumane proposal
The government therefore plans to pay another country to provide a home for the deportees. To date the only place which has shown any interest in doing this is Rwanda. Simply getting people to that country will involve considerable expense because of the hefty security needed to force people onto a plane. Yet that cost pales into insignificance compared with the costs when they arrive.
It will be necessary for the government of Rwanda to house the arrivals, to find work for them, to teach them the local language and to integrate them into their society. That will require funding for temporary camps for new arrivals and funding for transition away from those camps and for new employment opportunities. Rwanda isn’t an empty country. It is heavily populated and a place where conflicts over shortage of land and economic opportunities contributed in recent times to one of the worst genocides in living memory.
What will be the short-term and the long-term costs to Britain of paying the Rwandan government enough money to make it profitable for them to do this? To date it has cost millions to set up a scheme that lacks all meaningful detail about how it will function. How much longer will the enormous bills last? One year? Five years? Twenty years? The British people have been provided with no serious information about how much it will cost because the British government doesn’t know and isn’t interested in knowing the long-term drain on our national finances. All they are interested in is this week’s headlines and their impact on the opinion polls.
Wasted potential, wasted lives and a jump in the polls
There are, of course, costs of housing asylum seekers in the UK whilst their applications are processed. Most of them arise from one simple decision. New arrivals are not allowed to work. Instead they are fed and housed at public expense whilst their claims go through the courts regardless of their willingness to work, their qualifications and the labour shortages which Britain is currently facing.
In other words, the government is deporting people who could do jobs we need whilst elderly people are being told there are not enough care workers to help them.
The government has put a lot of wasted effort into trying to find places like former army barracks in small villages like Linton on Ouse where it could dump a few thousand people with nothing to do all day. It has deliberately ignored the option of asking these people to work to contribute to society whilst they are waiting for their case to be decided.
The Jewish people who arrived before the second world war contributed immensely to the success of Britain after its end. Many of those that we didn’t let in perished. The Asian community that arrived penniless from Uganda has provided several of the most successful business leaders in the UK. They are now providing work for large numbers of British people, some of whom objected to their arrival.
There are existing systems that enable the claims of new arrivals to be processed and judged fairly and that can, and in my view should, result in deportation if it is proved that there is no refugee claim and no justification for being in the country. Those processes are taking over a year to function.
If this government really wanted to get serious about tackling the issues of illegal migration they would focus on speeding up that system and on making sure those who were waiting for decisions were working and paying taxes instead of being forced to exist at public expense.
Doing effective things that take hard work and planning has not proved to be the strong suit of this government. Following policies that satisfy the deepest ideological obsessions and their cynical judgements about poll ratings is something they are rather better at.
The views expressed in this article are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Green Party.