A chilling horror consumes us all at the news of the deaths by suffocation of migrants in Austria. Equally disturbing are the details of Mediterranean deaths by drowning. Migration is the major world political issue. No party or country has a rational practical policy. Heartbreaking images of infants being hoisted aloft over razor wire and a granny being pushed across railway sleepers in a wheelchair churn up powerful emotions.
Theresa May's defensive opportunist ‘solution’ is a contemptible ploy to distract attention from her Government’s lamentable failures in the past five years. Targets have missed and UK has a virtual ‘open door’ policy for both refugees and economic migrants. Charities and pressure groups are also opportunistic. Frequently their remedies disguise their empire building ambitions for their own causes. Self-delusions rule. Statistics are manipulated to suit the interests of commentators. The scale of the world problem is usually ignored.
Estimates of the number of refugees from the Syrian War vary from 3 to 9 million. The population of Africa has doubled in the past 27 years above 1.2 billion. Present and future wars plus deepening poverty threaten ten of millions of would-be migrants to Europe. Afghanistan, the country that the United Kingdom sacrificed 454 lives to improve, provides one of the largest groups of UK-bound migrants at Calais.
Evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee from Calais officials established some humanitarian concern but overwhelming that is their desire to dispatch migrants and refugees from French soil as quickly as possible. They want to get rid of recurring headache. It is convenient to ignore the ruthless traffickers of many nations who sell passages to Dover by corrupting officials and transport staff. Their victims are robbed and their lives put in mortal peril. The present Government’s interest in the crisis is in direct proportion to the level of tabloid interest and hysteria. The political consequences are the rise of xenophobia, extreme political parties and hostility to the EU. The Government repeats their pretence of being simultaneously blameless and challenging opposition with bright solutions. Some of today’s papers treat Theresa’s May instant solution seriously instead of recognising it’s a political escape hatch from justified ignominy.
There are no easy solutions. If the traffickers are to be expelled and safe routes from Syria established, the numbers of refugees will multiply to unmanageable proportions No country is prepared to provide a habitat for a newcomers of a scale that would match the demand for safety and for the European lifestyles. Millions contemplating migration are now deterred by the dangers and privations of the journeys. When that is removed for humanitarian reasons the present stream of migrants could become a mighty river. The EU has the impossible task of reconciling our compassionate instincts with practical realities.
New figures released by the Government show a fresh surge of Section 95 asylum seekers in Newport. In proportionate term, they are not significant. In political terms they are dynamite.
According to the figures there are now 459 asylum seekers in Newport, an increase of 6% from 434 in the first quarter of the year. As recently as 2012, the number was below 200. Meanwhile the national total has fallen very slightly from 30,476 to 30,457.
The current dispersal system is not working. It was designed to avoid excessive concentrations in certain towns and cities but is placing a great burden on communities such as ours. Newcomers bring the benefit of a more diverse, vibrant city but create significant pressures on local services such as schools.
Meanwhile, top Tory constituencies avoid their share of our country’s responsibility to provide shelter to refugees. The Prime Minister currently has no asylum seekers in his, the Chancellor has one and the Home Secretary has five.
A fresh policy is needed which will expand the number of dispersal areas and ease the burden on Newport and fairly distribute asylum seekers throughout the country. One council has already asked for more dispersal areas.
Politicians control Section 95 Asylum Seekers. EU migrants are beyond their control. It is unhealthy to have decisions on migrations by MPs who have little or no direct constituency contact with the tensions that some migration can bring. Although a small proportion of migrant asylum seekers, they present complex protracted problems to MPs. There is no complaint because this is part of our role. We have both the taxing challenges of tackling complex problems but also the rewards of cases that are brought to satisfactory conclusions.
Newport has a splendid record of assimilating newcomers as the recent Estyn report on Pillgwenlly School eloquently proved. The future is daunting. On one hand public sympathies have been aroused by the touching pictures of the suffering of Syrian refugees. On the other hand, opposition has hardened with the threatening images from Calais. It is certain that the pressure to take more refugees will grow. There is no rational European policy to deal with the many millions from Syria, Africa and Afghanistan whose hopes of finding asylum here have been raised by the EU"s chaotic policies and refusal to recognise the magnitude of the problem.
The expected solution to be offered will probably be quotas. There is no question that the Tories are very unlikely to approve of large increase of offering refuge to large numbers of new migrants and refugees. They are afraid of the political backlash by their own bigots and the 4 million voters who choose UKIP in May. To sell a policy of increased immigration the Tory Party public opinion have to be persuaded.
We have no reason to be defensive in Newport. We have a 200 years record of assimilation. That's includes my lot the Potato Famine Irish, Somalis, Yemenis, West Indians, Indians, Bangla Deshes, Pakistanis and Eastern Europeans. It's a rich mix. Pillgwenlly Carnival today is living proof of the great success of Newport's enduring tradition of hospitality and integration.
We all understand the outcome that we want. Safety for the oppressed innocents and a chance to rebuild their lives in a free country. Achieving that will be a Herculean task.