My boat was lifted out of the water last week. A couple of days ago I went to inspect it in its winter storage; I could only stay for a few minutes because of a biting north wind coming in over the water and a temperature of around 5 degrees. Within minutes, I was chilled to the bone in spite of several layers of clothes... Under these weather conditions, people were making the crossing from France to England in inflatable dinghies.
I have a small inflatable dinghy which is used occasionally as a tender and kept in the boat for emergencies. I would never use it for distances of more than a few hundred yards, and then only in summer months, sheltered waters, and relatively calm conditions. I would use it in the middle of the English Channel in November literally only if my very life depended on it.
The people making the trip from France in these fragile craft are so desperate that they are willing to risk their lives and those of their children to come to Britain. They could apply for asylum in any of the EU countries—and in many of them they would be better off financially than they are here; from a House of Commons briefing paper, November 2020, the ‘hand-out’ for asylum seekers is £39.63 per week to cover “food, clothing, toiletries, non-prescription medication, household cleaning items, communications, travel and the ability to access social, cultural and religious life...” Basic accommodation is also supplied. So when asked why they do it, asylum seekers usually say something like they have family here, life is said to be better in Britain, and of course everyone speaks the international lingua franca—English... We ought to be flattered.
So you might think that we would be happy to see them, with 1.1 million job vacancies, shortages on the supermarket shelves for lack of delivery drivers, bus timetables subject to cancellation because of driver shortages, and taxi-driver shortages. Then there is the looming catastrophe that is the NHS, with staff exhausted by the pandemic and leaving in droves, GPs totally overstretched, acute shortages of hospital nurses and doctors, and emergency call-outs taking sometimes ten to twelve hours to reach heart-attack and stroke victims, because ambulances are piled up for hours at A & E there being too few beds and far too few staff to treat emergencies. And so on.
It really doesn’t matter why asylum-seekers want to come here rather than France or Germany, both of which countries have accepted many times more refugees that we have. If people are genuine refugees, i.e. fleeing persecution or harm, we must have a joined-up process for dealing with them. And, contrary to ‘popular’ belief, international law does not require refugees to seek asylum in the first safe country they come to. There is, currently, virtually no legitimate way for a refugee to seek asylum in the UK, which can only be done when the person is physically present in the country. Without a visa, passage would never be granted on the airlines or passenger ferries.
If the government is really serious about saving lives in the channel, it should stop shedding crocodile tears about the poor migrants, stop blaming it all on the ‘evil’ traffickers, cease criticism of the ‘indolent and inefficient’ French, demonstrate some charity, and issue emergency visas to allow these people to travel here legally to seek asylum. Of course it will mean a massive increase in arrivals in the short term, but if it is planned properly, we might even find that we can solve our labour shortage crisis in fairly short order.
Note added 29 November
It is gratifying to see that a number of people have endorsed the sentiments expressed above via Facebook. Re-reading it, I noticed that I had omitted one of the areas of most acute shortage of staff, that being the care sector.
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Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs