Helen Martin: David Cameron stand deserves credit

Migrants young and old seeking a fresh life in Europe. Picture: Getty
Migrants young and old seeking a fresh life in Europe. Picture: Getty
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NO-ONE was more surprised than me to find that I agreed with David Cameron on anything, writes Helen Martin

Yes, it has taken him longer than Germany to “open the doors” to Syrian refugees, but his policy to accept thousands from UN camps on the Syrian border and elsewhere in the Middle East, rather than from Calais or other European entry points, is the right one.

Any refugee crisis is heartbreaking, especially one on this scale, including the shocking wake-up call of two children little more than babies being washed up dead with flotsam and jetsam on a Turkish beach.

But exercising compassion without calculation in the modern world would only lead to more chaos.

I am one of the cynics who still doubts that everyone stowing away in lorries, breaking through fences and demanding entry to other countries is a genuinely desperate refugee rather than an economic migrant.

Among the sad and stricken, the sobbing and desperate, are the well dressed, the well fed, whose looks, happy smiles and charged mobile phones don’t reflect a life of oppression and fear and a tortuous and terrifying escape route. They may be bona fide refugees, they may not.

By accepting only those from the camps, Cameron is sending out a clear message that paying a smuggling gang is not the best route to the UK, thereby cutting down the market in which these criminals, who have led so many to their deaths, operate.

All true refugees care about is getting to a place of safety and acceptance. Economic migrants have different motives to choose their destination and do whatever’s necessary, however illegal, to get there.

It’s also concerning and significant – though by no means conclusive – that so many of those pictured in Calais especially are single men, rather than families, women and children.

None of that detracts from the need to play our part in helping those regardless of gender, escaping war, rape, torture, bombing and chemical weapons. But with limits on the numbers each country can accommodate and the resources we need to care for those in genuine need, the distinction between a humanitarian welcome to refugees and a rejection of economic migrants is crucial.

Of all refugees genuinely fleeing for their lives, why should those who have patiently waited in temporary camps under UN protection be disadvantaged next to those who have paid to be smuggled, broken through barricades and cordons in unmanageable numbers, and used vandalism to demand entry to the country of their choice?

The “humanitarian” card has been played endlessly by politicians throughout this catastrophe. And yes, the UK and the US have particular responsibility for the crisis and resolving it. But turning it into a political football doesn’t help. This is about more than being compassionate. The scale of the problem is so immense that it’s not enough to react with knee-jerk emotion and tearful empathy.

In a country which already faces such public opposition to immigration, particularly the case in parts of England, the solution has to be carefully considered and planned. The public has to know beyond doubt that those who join their community are genuine refugees with nowhere else to go. The alternative is social unrest and those we “welcome” surrounded by suspicion, hostility and animosity in their new home.

I may never agree with Cameron again. But this time, I do.