A managed immigration policy would facilitate asylum
Generally speaking I have a high regard for journalist and commentator, Fraser Nelson, who is frequently a beacon of common sense. However I did feel that a piece he wrote for The Telegraph could perhaps have been a little more nuanced.
In it, he called for Britain to follow the lead of Australia, and offer asylum to four thousand Iraqi refugees. He made a very strong moral and emotional case for doing so. We subsequently had an exchange on Twitter, which I reproduce below. However it’s not always possible to present a complex issue in 140 characters, so forgive me for addressing it at (slightly) greater length.
First, the exchange. My first Tweet: “Memo to Fraser Nelson: The reason it’s difficult to welcome Iraqi asylum seekers is that we’re already overwhelmed by ‘EU citizens’”. Fraser’s reply: “Welcoming 4000 Iraqis (as Australia has) would make a material difference? Really?”. And my response: “A thousand here, a thousand there, and pretty soon you’re talking real numbers. You imagine it’ll stop at 4000?”
I think that Fraser here has uncharacteristically missed my point (although that may be my fault for failing to make myself clear). I’m not arguing that we should heartlessly leave Iraqi Christians to their fate at the hands of “The Islamic State”, so-called (although “Band of Brigands” might be a more accurate term). I’m arguing that if we had a managed, orderly immigration policy based on numbers and skills, it would be far easier to cope with hard cases and emergencies within an overall envelope in terms of actual numbers.
In any case, where does Fraser get his 4000 from? It seems to be simply a reference to the number admitted by Australia. Where is the moral justification for saying “We’ll take these four thousand at risk of their lives, but we’ll refuse the next four thousand who are also at risk of their lives”? I apologise in advance for a well-worn cliché, but this sounds like the thin end of the wedge.
Fraser himself quotes the number of Christians in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, at 1.4 million. Many will have left already, but many (presumably) remain. All are at risk. Where do we draw the line? And not just Iraq. There will be Iraqi Christian refugees in Syria (and Yazidis — let’s not forget them — reports say eighty Yazidi men have just been shot by ISIS for refusing to convert to Islam). Do they not have an equal claim?
In fact according to ‘World Watch List’ there are fifty countries around the world where Christians are persecuted, including fourteen were the persecution is ranked “extreme”. Do we discriminate in favour of Iraq and against the other forty-nine? Or do we just open our doors to all comers?
And beyond the persecution of Christians, we have other religions, other reasons for persecution. Then we have the victims of natural disaster, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, droughts. I’m sure that Fraser could write a heart-wrenching polemic demanding their admission too, every time DEC runs an appeal. There is in effect almost no limit to those who might make a good case to come to Britain.
I agree that the example of Iraq is an egregious case. I agree that we have an element of responsibility, both for having drawn the artificial borders, irrespective of ethnicity, aspirations and tribal loyalties, which have created an unstable Iraq, and for the botched intervention that led to the present problems.
So to say it again: my point is not that we should shrug off that responsibility (though we should handle it with care, and avoid creating precedents). My point is that we need a managed immigration policy, and then emergency and humanitarian admissions can be accommodated within that policy. Say we had a cap of 50,000 net immigrants a year. In general, they would be selected on economic grounds — those with the skills and experience needed by British industry (and the NHS). But we could say “This year, we make an emergency admission of 4000 Iraqi Christians, but we reduce the regular figure to 46,000”.
The country would still be making an economic sacrifice (on the assumption that — generally speaking and on average — those selected for asylum might not meet the skills criteria applied to other immigrants). But it would be a sacrifice that we made with our eyes open, and for good moral reasons. And it would allay fears that immigration was running out of control — as it is today. It would allow us to make the right moral choice without inflating the overall numbers.