Comment: We are witnessing the human cost of policies that are more about political posturing than finding solutions
There are moments in time, they can strike like lightning, when something so heartbreakingly awful acts as the wake-up call for change, becoming the catalyst for immediate action on what should have already been the blinking obvious. And that provoke that sickening primal scream that cries simply, ‘why?’
One such moment is now. Nearly 30 people – men, women, children, one yet to be born – all drowned at sea. The flotsam and jetsam of a geopolitics that creates migrants from war, famine, prejudice and persecution, and sends them off on a fruitless search of a better life, only to be exploited by those who trade in their misery.
Every life lost in this human exodus of refugees and asylum seekers escaping one terror and drowning in another, is an absolute tragedy. But the sheer horror and scale of the loss of life in the English Channel right now should bring us all up short. Whether it is one or 100, every life lost is an utter tragedy and their death a completely pointless exercise in upholding a hostile immigration policy.
And it’s the detail that gets you: the hint of the lives once lived; of the people they really were; a woman pregnant, her belly full and a heart ready with expectation; a youngster whose parents must have wrestled with their child just as much as they wrestled with their conscience as they boarded that craft; and a teenage boy and a young girl – where were their parents?
The relationships can only be guessed at. Their names unknown. Who they were and what lives they lived, the hopes they harboured and the fears they were prepared to face to make this one last crossing, having already travelled so far, can only be guessed at because illegal people traffickers aren’t known for their record-keeping.
We know they paid a heavy price of about £6,000 for their cramped places on a dinghy designed to carry so few. Only a couple were wearing life jackets when they were thrown into the sea. Most are thought to have succumbed to the ravages of hypothermia. Just think on that. The fear, the dark, the cold. The knowing you had factored in this risk and still thought it was better than the life you were leaving behind.
So, ignore the dehumanising language, the bald stats, the rhetoric, and the excuses that apportion blame on the very victims of a vile and pernicious trade in their hopes and dreams.
You can argue among yourselves about the rights and wrongs of grading human misery in order of priority, whether you view economic migrants as less deserving than those escaping persecution or war, but ultimately, these people were just people, seeking people like you and me, to help them make their lives better.
Fundamentally, though, it is a matter of push rather than pull. The flow of people trying to get here don’t leave their homes and families behind because they think Britain will give them an easy ride. Rather, it is because whatever they might face on the journey to get here is a million times better than the life they already led.
They are getting in small boats, inflatables, kayaks, and even astride stand-up paddleboards, because they are desperate, and anything that floats will do. And they are taking to the water because getting into the back of a lorry, hanging onto a plane, or hiding under the wheels of a train, are no longer the ‘easier’ options, thanks to Brexit and the pandemic disrupting those particular travel plans.
Desperation leads to adaptation and making it more difficult to cross the Channel will just make it more dangerous for them to do so – but won’t stop them. They will keep coming because the likelihood of death is now baked in as a risk worth taking. Which makes you wonder what their other options really are.
So, we need now to howl at this inhumanity. It is unacceptable to hear the home secretary, Priti Patel, blame France, the people smugglers or express her condolences while she continues to exercise an institutionally racist department that has hostility baked in.
These people, so desperate that their only hope is to pile onto anything that floats to take them across the Channel, are the symptoms of a breakdown in world order, and they deserve a solution that offers a route to safety, not a country prepared to pull up the drawbridge and literally leave them to drown
We need to shout out the absurdity of her department’s suggestions to round up migrants and send them off to camps in Rwanda or Albania for assessment. We need to question the sanity of a proposal to install artificial wave machines designed to deter dinghies from landing ashore. We need to question, too, how any right-minded person can think it proper to order Border Force vessels to push back small boats into French waters at the risk of capsizing them.
And we need to challenge the simplistic view of a complex, nuanced problem such that if you make it harder for people to make the journey here, then they will simply give up. They won’t.
This is a home secretary that believes you should stand aside and watch people drown for fear of being prosecuted for stretching out a helping hand, while ignoring her party’s role in helping create this orgy of despair.
Her approach is to make things so tough, that it deters people from coming here. It won’t work and it’s indicative of the same old Tory attitude that believes cutting social security benefits will force people into work that isn’t there, will prevent babies from being conceived or will make the chronically sick and disabled find a cure. It’s cruel, it’s nonsensical and it doesn’t work.
On immigration, we are witnessing the real, human cost of government policies on our borders that are more about political posturing than finding solutions.
And all of this is before we address the very real fact that we need people to come to Britain. We are facing an employment gap that needs to be filled and yet we are fighting to keep people out.
We have just hosted COP26 in Glasgow, a time where the world was forced to come together to tackle a global crisis.
These people, so desperate that their only hope is to pile onto anything that floats to take them across the Channel, are the symptoms of a breakdown in world order, and they deserve a solution that offers a route to safety, not a country prepared to pull up the drawbridge and literally leave them to drown.