When the people traffickers opened the route to into southern Europe from Libya and the grizzly count of those drowned in the attempted crossing began to rise, the response of European powers was to support a rescue mission with their own naval vessels and those chartered by charities and others.
Perversely, the consequence was more drownings rather than fewer: the increased chance of rescue, led to an exponential rise in the demand to make the crossing, and a corresponding response from the traffickers by providing even more unseaworthy craft and with insufficient fuel, in the expectation of rescue just beyond Libyan territorial waters.
Of course, there were many more rescues, but many more drownings too, such was the increased traffic.
I see no reason to believe that experience in the English Channel will be any different from the Mediterranean. Indeed the Home Secretary initially urged caution in the face of demands for more patrol vessels, because they would be likely to encourage many more attempted crossings. It is not clear to me why he appears to have changed his mind and redeployed the available patrol vessels so that they too can now patrol the channel.
I do not underestimate the enormity of the expense and the hardship that refugees endure in making their journeys to Europe and then across it, nor should we underestimate the misery and poverty from which they initially fled.
When I was the minister responsible for our humanitarian response it was clear to me that we could afford to feed, accommodate and educate ten refugees in their own region for the cost of assisting just one back in Britain. Furthermore, the ones that made it to Britain were not the most vulnerable, but the most resourceful.
Everyone has a right to flee to safety in the face of violence and persecution. The moment you travel beyond the first place of safety in pursuit of a more attractive destination however, you have become, not so much a refugee, as an economic migrant.
Now, nobody should be condemned for being an economic migrant: which one of us, in similar circumstances, would not see it as our duty to seek better prospects for our families by struggling to get to Britain?
Equally, it is clear that there is a limit to what Britain can accommodate.
In economics there is a concept of ‘equilibrium’ which , I believe, is applicable: migrants will continue to be drawn to Europe until an equilibrium is established where life is no better here than it is in the places from which they were coming.
Our proper response to the refugee crisis, therefore, is our massive investment in international development assistance to provide order, economic opportunity, education and healthcare in the places from which people are seeking to escape.
To those constituents who demand cuts in this assistance so that we can spend it on ourselves instead, the answer is simple: expect many, many, many more channel crossings until an equilibrium is established.