Ten days ago 23 Conservative MPs who are all part of a group that calls itself Common Sense wrote to Priti Patel on the theme of Asylum Seekers trying to cross the English Channel. The group is led by John Hayes MP and it includes Sally-Ann Hart MP from Hastings who also signed the letter which apparently stated “It is strikingly clear that, rather than a ‘hostile environment’, invading migrants have been welcomed.” They also claimed those arriving are being put up in “expensive hotels” and enjoying “immediate access” to financial help.
Clearly raising concerns is something many of us do from time to time and MPs should certainly do so when the Government makes bad decisions or fails to act as it claims it will do. However an important issue is to try to check facts and take on board details that are easily available before one goes public on such matters. One could argue that failing to do so is a lack of common sense and certainly a lack of credibility.
The correct reference to cash support for asylum seekers is £37.75 per week which is of course not zero but it is also not as much as many MPs claim for small matters each day such as in 2013 when Iain Duncan Smith who claimed he could live on a low income spent £39 for a single Breakfast meal. Equally there is no evidence of expensive Hotels and as for the need for our nation to establish a hostile environment!
A man called Gulwali Passarlay has written a book about his experience of escaping from Afghanistan when he was 12 years old said about the MPs “They have to look at themselves and have humanity and have decency.” In reference to the refugees crossing in fragile dinghies “These are people who are desperate, who have seen violence in countries, they are fleeing from places like Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq.” Another person called Lisa Doyle who is the director of advocacy at the Refugee Council, said “We need our MPs and peers to do better than this. It’s time to drop the soundbites and the scapegoating, and implement reasonable policies, in line with international law, that enable people seeking asylum to access safe and regular routes to the UK.”
However John Hayes defended the provocative language to The Independent Newspaper: “People do feel it is an invasion. We are reflecting the sentiment of a very large number of people who feel this is the entry into our country of a large number of people illegally. From the perspective of legal migrants, it’s terribly insulting to have other people who can just walk in – or, in this case, paddle in.” Clearly paddling in from a nearby beach is something that some people may imagine, however crossing the English Channel is not a paddling in journey.
Priti Patel who the Common Sense group wrote to has appointed a former royal marine as her “clandestine channel threat commander”, to draw up plans to block migrants coming over from France. But the Ministry of Defence is still considering her request to deploy warships, after one official there branded the tactic “completely potty”. On the other hand Mr Hayes said his group backed the move, saying: “We think it’s an excellent idea, we should deal with that without delay.” He argued the numbers crossing from France, had reached “really extraordinary numbers”, but the figures suggest there has simply been a shift in method. The most common route has been to stow away in a lorry but, since the coronavirus lockdown, the number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children found in lorries at Dover port has reduced from several dozen a month to zero. It has emerged that Ms Patel was part of a Commons committee inquiry which warned that “a policy that focuses exclusively on closing borders will drive migrants to take more dangerous routes”. Some of this information comes from this piece in the Independent newspaper.
As it happens John Hayes is an MP who I have written about in the past as his attack of Caroline Lucas was particularly irritating and incompetent. Indeed Natalie Elphicke who is the Dover MP has refused to sign his letter even though she is keen to end the movement of people and may even be a member of the group. Perhaps it is worth reminding ourselves of how in the past there has been around about 36,000 people seeking asylum in our nation each year and less than 2,000 of these people travelled across the Channel in 2019. Even this year when the other routes have been significantly closed down, the number is marginally over 4,000. Again to put our numbers into context, in the most recent reliable data in 2018, we were 11th on the list of nations receiving asylum seekers with Peru the largest followed by Germany, France, USA, Turkey, Brazil, Greece, Spain, Canada and Italy. In terms of the numbers of people seeking asylum our nation is the 32nd when it comes to the numbers per the size of our population and even in terms of the numbers per the size of our land we are still only 16th so our nation which is apparently one of the most powerful in the world and also one with some very strong claims to be a credible nation is not faced with anywhere near as many people as some of the other nations.