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Tuesday, October 28, 2014 

The pull factor.

A few years back now, an enterprising individual with a paint can took it upon himself to daub "KILL ASYLUM SEEKERS" in 2 foot high letters on a wall close to where I worked.  It took the best part of a month before anyone saw fit to cover it over.  How and why this person chose asylum seekers specifically as the focus of his passive aggressive ire rather than illegal immigrants say, or a defined ethnic minority has always stuck with me.  After all, it's a lot harder to argue against providing someone fleeing persecution with sanctuary than it is to oppose economic migration, legal and illegal.  Hence why the tabloids got into so much bother with the countless pieces on "bogus asylum seekers", their attempt to fight back against a loaded term with one of their own.  The PCC was forced into recognising there could be no such thing as an "illegal" or "bogus" asylum seeker, only those whose applications had been rejected and so were "failed" asylum seekers.

In all likelihood, the person responsible wasn't specifically offended by the idea of states being required by international law to provide sanctuary to someone who asks for it, and whose case is found to be legitimate.  He just hated immigrants, regardless of their merits or demerits.  Our politicians, by contrast, don't hate asylum seekers; they just either don't care, or rather, care only about the resources they use and the responsibility they have to look after them, especially in the face of public outcry.

One approach by which they try and evade responsibility is that old favourite, blaming everyone other than themselves.  Natacha Bouchart, the mayor of Calais, might as well have been quoting from a years-old think piece in the Express in her evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee on why it is so many migrants continue to try to get to Britain rather than seek asylum in France or work there.  Bouchart claimed those camped out in Calais aren't asylum seekers, and yet when challenged by Ian Austin on why they couldn't then be deported as illegal immigrants, said she was in dispute with the French government over the matter.  All the talk of the "pull factor", of migrants being attracted by the benefit system, of the UK being a "soft touch", all was to distract from how the French have never cared about asylum seekers, genuine or otherwise, trying to get to Britain through French ports but obviously can't admit as much, and second, how France is so poorly regarded that many of those fleeing persecution want to stay anywhere but there.

There are many reasons other than ones to do with our famously generous welfare state for why those wanting sanctuary aim for Britain rather than elsewhere in Europe, and they're pretty much the same as why others choose to head for Sweden or Germany rather than ask for asylum in the first European country they enter.  Real pull factors are relatives, or friends who've previously made the journey, as little as stories of friends of friends of friends.  Long established communities of ex-pats are known about and play a similar role.  Then there's language, culture, the way countries have an image whether accurate or not, and knowledge of economic success.  There's a reason why Australia continues to attract migrants and asylum seekers despite its hardline approach to both, whereas a country like Japan which on the surface ought to be similarly regarded doesn't.

The fact is facts don't matter.  Politicians don't really believe funding search and rescue operations encourages other desperate people to pay traffickers to get them into Europe, as they aren't that stupid.  The idea someone weighing up whether to flee Syria, Iraq, Libya or Eritrea is going to be put off by the Italian navy not being there to save them should their boat sink is patently, insultingly absurd.  Nor is it about money.  Both ourselves and the French for instance had no problem in finding the cash to bomb Islamic State in Iraq, just the latest self-defeating measure in a whole line of policies connected with Syria and Iraq.  Rather than try to bring an end to the civil war in the former, we lined up behind rebels it quickly transpired could not overthrow Bashar al-Assad.  Despite our role in fomenting the conflict, with millions of Syrians displaced, the only European nations to go beyond platitudes have been, again, Germany and Sweden.

It isn't that politicians are heartless, inhumane or morally bankrupt either.  Rather, the sad thing is they're just going by what they hear.  People don't care that hundreds, almost certainly thousands of migrants are drowning every year while trying to reach Europe's shores, or if they do, it's because they're angered more isn't being done to keep them out, to remove those "pull" factors.  The only surprising thing is we've reached a point where another excuse wasn't found as to why EU-wide funding isn't going to be made available, and this was presumably only down to how the Home Office thought they had cover due to it being agreed by a group of foreign ministers.  The contrast between the current attitude and that of Sir Nicholas Winton, celebrated today for making the arrangements that allowed 669 mostly Jewish children to escape from occupied Czechoslovakia in 1939, could not be more stark.  Then too sanctuary to those escaping conflict was opposed and demonstrated against.  That we haven't truly moved on from those times ought to challenge more consciences than it apparently does.

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