Peter Hitchens, in his column for The Mail, described refugees coming to Britain in terms of an invasion from which we need to protect our country. If we let them in, he wrote, it would be tantamount to giving the country away to “complete strangers” only because “it makes us feel good about ourselves”.
He called the numbers of refugees coming to Europe – and potentially to Great Britain – as an “unstoppable demographic revolution”. He questioned whether they were refugees at all. “You really think these crowds of tough young men chanting ‘Germany!’ in the heart of Budapest are ‘asylum-seekers’ or ‘refugees’?”
Mr Hitchens wouldn’t put into print what the thought they really were. “I am too afraid of the Thought Police to use what I think is the correct word,” he wrote.
For those ‘do-gooder’ Britons now calling for the country to take in refugees, he had a message: “just don’t pretend you’re doing a good and generous thing, when you’re really cowardly and weak.”
Everyone who is calling for refugees to be allowed into this country should be asked if they will, “take a refugee family into his or her home for an indefinite period, and pay for their food, medical treatment and education.”
If not, claimed Mr Hitchens, then all those do-gooders are doing is expecting others to pay for refugees here so that they can experience “a self-righteous glow”.
In his column titled, 'We won't save refugees by destroying our own country', Mr Hitchens conceded that, yes, "stupid” interventions by this country in Iraq, Libya and Syria have turned “many innocent people into refugees or corpses”.
But, he continued, we should not be allowing these things, “to become a pretext for an unstoppable demographic revolution in which Europe (including, alas, our islands) merges its culture and its economy with North Africa and the Middle East. If we let this happen, Europe would lose almost all the things that make others want to live there.”
On the basis of Mr Hitchens alarmist fears of invasion, I wouldn’t be surprised if volunteers now come forward not to warmly greet refugees as they did in Germany this week, but to fight them on the beaches, stopping them from entering our precious isles.
But Mr Hitchens column gave a one-sided, slanted view of refugees only as undesirable, thuggish-looking forceful young men. Yes, we’ve seen some on our TV screens seemingly to be on a bit of a rampage, demanding rather than needy. However, this isn’t a rounded or fair view, is it?
There are thousands of tearful, profoundly scared children, homeless and lost, many of them orphaned, who are refugees; thousands of women who have lost their husbands, their homes, who are exhausted, stateless and yes, desperate. There are also men who are injured, seriously injured and scarred, both physically and mentally, from war and horrific torture, who are not shouting, running, demanding, but quietly sobbing inside, forlorn, broken, their spirits crumpled.
To suggest that allowing refugees into this country represents an invasion is a distortion of the real situation. All such articles do is to fill our citizens with fear against helping anyone who is not of our island. If we believe Mr Hitchens, refugees coming here potentially represents a mortal risk not just to our future, but to the future of Great Britain as an independent nation. Frankly, in my view, this is quite ridiculous.
Mr Hitchens doesn’t acknowledge the categories of refugees I have described above; nor does he quantify the precise numbers coming here that he considers would represent a true invasion. He just mentions his generalised fears of refugees being allowed to come here, and how we have to protect our country at all costs. In my view, his article promotes not wisdom and good advice, but a generalised fear of foreigners.
In other words, xenophobia.
In his column, Mr Hitchens claimed that “mass immigration” to the UK means that British people have to adapt to the immigrants, “when they should be adapting to us”. Really? The majority of British-born people here - 88% - having to adapt to a small minority of just 12% who were born abroad, many of them considered to be British anyway (such as Boris Johnson and Joanna Lumley)?
Most migrants here are law-abiding, hard-working, tax-paying, up-standing good citizens. Is it right to cast aspersions against all of them?
Similarly, Mr Hitchen’s view of refugees is prejudicial, only presenting them in his column as undesirable-looking young men who he fears want to take over the country.
However, refugees genuinely seeking asylum here are the victims of invasion and attack by terrorists; they have no desire, intention, means, or bodily strength to mount an attack on us. They are in the main vulnerable damaged people who have lost everything, who need help, and who need to be treated with dignity and respect.
The government is planning to offer refuge to 4,000 Syrian refugees for settlement each year into this country over the next 4-5 years (and only, it seems, because of one photo that prompted this sudden U-turn). I don’t think this is nearly enough, but does Mr Hitchens really think that giving asylum to such small numbers of people represents any sort of invasion of our country? Or that these refugees will change the demographics of our nation?
Mr Hitchens claims that all those calling for asylum seekers to be offered refuge here should be prepared to take them into their own homes indefinitely, and to pay for their food, education and medical care.
There are in fact many people in this country prepared to welcome refugees into their homes. But that isn’t the point.
On the basis of Mr Hitchens logic, we shouldn’t campaign for our government to do anything; we should always be prepared to do it ourselves. Want more hospitals? Go and build them, don’t expect the government to do it. Think the country needs more schools? So, go and set them up. Think our unemployed should be given more help? So, you do it. Think the country should help refugees? Well, you go and help them then. Using this rationale, there’s nothing left for our government to do.
The fact is, however, that we pay our government; they use our money. Why shouldn’t people speak up on how they feel our government should be using our money?
Our government, in our name, is currently spending many millions of pounds of our money dropping bombs on Iraq, which probably kill far more innocent civilians than they kill terrorist soldiers. Now our government wants to use more millions of our money dropping bombs on Syria too, which will undoubtedly help to create yet more refugees, who we don’t want to help. None of this alone will help to resolve the issues in these regions; they just delay the progress of terrorist armies, rather than stopping them for good.
It was our government that spent billions of pounds of our money originally bombing parts of Iraq, Syria and Libya back to the Stone Age, helping to create the circumstances for what is now the world’s worst ever refugee crisis. In our name, our successive political masters have contributed to how the world has now turned out. How can we simply wash our hands of that fact?
Furthermore, Mr Hitchens makes no mention of previous flows (he’d no doubt call them ‘invasions’) of people coming to our country. Would Mr Hitchens have turned away the 40,000 Ugandan Asians who were allowed refuge in this country when Idi Amin kicked them out in 1972? In similar terms to how Mr Hitchens now writes, many people strongly objected then to those Ugandan Asians coming here. But they came, and they didn’t conquer.
Instead, those refugees integrated well into our society (contrary to the alarmist warnings of those who claimed that couldn’t happen) and they turned out to be very clever, entrepreneurial people who helped to enrich our communities and to make our country richer.
So, based on Mr Hitchens logic, would he have closed the door on those Ugandan Asian refugees, or does he only want to close the door on the world’s current refugees, just because he’s seen some young men on the telly that he doesn’t like the look of?
Yes, I do agree we have to be careful; we don’t want any terrorists coming here in the guise of a refugee. That will require clever monitoring by our security services, and the country and its citizens have a right to expect that everything will be done that can be done to protect us. But all genuine refugees are the victims of war, oppression and terrorism; they are not the perpetrators.
We need to find ways to give refuge to a fair quota of them, not only because it’s the right, humanitarian thing to do, but because it’s in our self-interests. We can’t let millions of stateless broken people wander the world, or end up in stasis in squalid hopeless refugee camps for years on end, without this issue having the potential to engulf the entire planet into turmoil, including us.
In the long term, this world crisis will not disappear by us just turning our backs and hermetically sealing our borders. Mr Hitchens didn’t offer any recommendations on how a leading country such as Britain could contribute to calming down and resolving the world’s worst refugee crisis (although, to be fair, he may have offered such advice in previous columns – I’m not a regular reader).
Mr Hitchens might agree with me, however, that the ultimate goal should be to help to bring peace and stability back to those countries and regions now torn apart by war, violence and oppression. Then millions of refugees could go to where most of them really want to go: not here, but back home.
As Angelina Jolie, the actress and human rights activist, rightly said:
“In countries where people have to flee their homes because of persecution and violence, political solutions must be found, peace and tolerance restored, so that refugees can return home. In my experience, going home is the deepest wish of most refugees.”
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