Thousands of people are camped at Calais, and are trying to board lorries as they cross the English channel on the Eurostar or Ferries. Most of these people are from Somalia, Eritrea, Syria and Afghanistan. The tone of the debate is ghastly. On the one hand you have UKIP and the Tabloids suggesting “sending in the Army”, describing the people pouring into Europe over the mediterranean hoping to reach Northern Europe “cockroaches“. This is just grotesque lack of concern for a dehumanised outgroup of desperate people. On the other, you have people saying “let them all in”, which is just vapid moral posturing.
They aren’t coming because our benefits system is a soft-touch. They’d probably find the French system easier. They’re trying to cross the Channel because of the Language – they’re more likely to have some English than French, and they believe (rightly) it will be easier to find work in the UK than in France.
We cannot let the millions (yes, millions) who’d come, were the UK to open its borders, settle at will. Why not? Because to let such a huge number in would be disruptive to the society the migrants want to join. Liberal, free-market democracy is a fragile thing, and if you let millions, with a limited grasp of English, brutalised by war, and completely unprepared to cope in a sophisticated market economy, you risk destroying the thing that brought them here in the first place. Government has a duty to the people who’re born here, to manage the flow of people so that it minimises the disruption to society and culture. People feel “swamped” by the flow in certain parts of the country as it is, by people who are pretty similar. The country can absorb lots of people, and doing so will be good for the country, but it cannot be a free-for-all. The differentials in wealth between the UK and Somalia (for example) are just too great, and travel too easy for people to move at will. Lovely though the thought of a world without borders is, borders remain an unfortunate necessity.
Free movement for Poles and Czechs isn’t a problem because they share most of our cultural assumptions, come from up-and-coming countries limiting the ‘push’, and are sufficiently educated to find work in the UK. Yet even the few hundred thousand Central and Eastern Europeans who’ve moved here are vastly controversial. The number of potential migrants from Syria, Eritrea, Somalia and North Africa is an order of magnitude greater. Poles are pretty well educated, and find work easily. This is not true of most Somalis and Eritreans. There isn’t enough low-skilled work for our own British-born morons, without importing desperate africans to compete with them for what little there is. Poles haven’t been brutalised by decades of war, and so don’t tend to form violent Criminal gangs. Somalis do. And so forth. If you pretend to not see a difference between a Polish graduate, and a Somali goatherd because it troubles your left-wing, right-on moral bubble then you need to grow up. Immigration is a good thing. It doesn’t follow that more is always better.
But then we cannot let people die of hunger and cold in “jungle camps” outside calais. Nor can we let them drown in the Mediterranean. So what are the destination countries to do? First admit the problem around Calais, whilst acute, is as nothing to that on Lesbos or Lampedusa. The Greek and Italian authorities are swamped by the tide of humanity moving north over the sea. This is a whole-Europe issue, and it requires a European solution. Unfortunately that means confining and processing migrants, and repatriating those who fail to gain the right to enter. It means shouldering our share of the burden. This needs to be robust, but humane and if there’s to be anything like a solution, rather than booting the problem into the long grass, it will probably involve a vast migrant camp or camps, built and administered by the EU, on a mediterranean island, or somewhere on the North African coast.
This is an issue with no easy answers. But if your solution involves shooting migrants, or, on the other hand, letting them all in, you’re not part of a serious attempt to solve the problem.