It’s also worth noting that, despite the positive coverage being given to the Prime Minister, the gesture by the UK government, directed as it is at those who have not yet started migrating from refugee camps in the Middle East rather than at those already in transit, does absolutely nothing to assist our fellow Europeans in handling the immediate problems that they are facing. (I suppose, though, one might argue that it speaks to one of those great British values that he’s always banging on about – after all, we all hate queue jumpers, don’t we? But it’s not much of an excuse.)
Something else that Cameron said with which I agree is that the problem really needs to be solved in the countries from which the refugees are migrating. I agree with the principle; it’s just that we have a different view about what that actually means. I think it means helping those countries at war to achieve peace, and those countries whose ‘only’ problem is poverty and hunger by sharing the world’s resources more fairly. He seems to think that it means dropping more bombs.
And there’s yet a third thing on which I agree with Cameron. One of the better decisions that his government has taken was to protect the foreign aid budget, and to promise to give 0.7% of GNI as aid. As with my other points of agreement, the problem is not with the principle, but with the practice. The proposal to channel part of the foreign aid budget to local authorities in the UK to help with the cost of resettling refugees doesn’t fit with any reasonable person’s definition of overseas aid. That’s not to say that the councils don’t need financial assistance – merely that it cannot honestly be called foreign aid.
The crises which have led so many people to risk so much to seek out a better future are not ones for which there are any simple or quick solutions. They require a long term commitment of resources and effort. But the UK government does not only not have a coherent and viable response to the long term problem – it isn’t even willing to do very much to respond to the immediate needs of those affected. And it’s being aided and abetted by opposition parties whose response is little better – high on critical rhetoric, but short on willingness to talk about the significantly higher numbers of people who need safe havens now.