I can barely bring myself to watch TV scenes reporting the distress of refugees, particularly where children are involved.
Of the refugees that we have already admitted as part of our commitment to resettle 20,000 of the most vulnerable Syrians, half have been children. These have been accompanied children because the UN advice is that unaccompanied children are much better off staying in the region where there remains the possibility of being reunited with their extended families. Notwithstanding, we have also made commitments to take such children where it is judged to be in their best interests and, in addition, we have committed to take unaccompanied children who have already made it to the European mainland.
There is however, a preponderance of young men, and men not so young, some of which claim to be children, and many of which claim to be refugees, when many are actually migrants.
(I blame no migrant for seeking a better life, but our proper response to the problem of mass migration is to invest in the economic development of the places from which they are migrating. The UK is one of the very few developed nations meeting its commitment to spend 0.7% of our national income on this important international development aid. If all the developed nations did so, and if we had all done so 40 years ago when that commitment was made, perhaps we would not be faced with mass migration on the scale that we are now dealing with.)
When I visited the President of Afghanistan earlier this year I raised with him the issue of our difficulty in returning Afghans whose claims to asylum in Europe had been rejected. In the end, he agreed to take personal charge of the issue and to resolve the matter, but before we got to that satisfactory conclusion, he delivered a lecture to me. This is the gist of it: He told me that his main effort had to be delivering progress for all the people of Afghanistan who, despite their difficulties, had stuck with it; that his priority was the needs of the young men and women who were taking the fight to the Taliban. Only after these priorities were met, could he address the issue of receiving back those of his countrymen who gave up on his country and went away.
When we think of the blood and treasure that the United Kingdom has expended in Afghanistan, we might reflect on the President’s lecture.