Labour should be arguing for more than 500 Syrian refugees

If Nigel Farage is able to make the case for Syrian asylum seekers, Ed Miliband should be able to.

Now is not the easiest of times to be making the case for more migration to the UK. People who see immigration as a problem outweigh those who see it as opportunity by 64 to 29 per cent.

This has resulted in predictable enmity toward the end of visa restrictions for Romanians and Bulgarians, despite there being considerable evidence prior to the January 1 changes that there would be no new influx of economic migrants (and thus far there hasn’t been).

The perception of immigration as a toxic issue almost certainly explains the unwillingness of politicians to make the case for Syrian asylum seekers. Since the vote against military action back in August, the issue of Syria seems to have fallen off the agenda for many of our politicians and political commentators – regardless of whether they supported or opposed the use of force against Bashar al Assad.

The government of David Cameron, which took a principled stand in August against “the gassing of children” by Assad’s forces, has been happy to sit on its hands when those same Syrian children have sought refuge from the murderous government he was so eager to (rightly) condemn in the summer.

Over two million people have now fled Syria as a consequence of the country’s civil war. According to the Economist, 988 Syrians applied for asylum in Britain in 2012 and 625 were granted it, up from just 30 in 2010. However this is far short of the 18,000 taken in by Germany; and of course far fewer than the number taken by many countries in the Middle East (838,000 by Lebanon; 567,000 by Jordan; 129,000 by Egypt).

Amnesty International hasn’t minced its words, describing it as “absolutely shameful” that Britain has not provided refuge for more Syrian asylum seekers.

The extent of the government’s callousness toward Syrians is such that even UKIP leader Nigel Farage has urged David Cameron to do more (although he was forced to eat his words after a backlash from the Little Englanders of his party).

Unfortunately, though, the Tory party is right about one thing: the Labour response has been ‘tokenistic’ at best. The UN has asked that Europe make 30,000 visas available to Syrians stuck in refugee camps. Yet Labour has been pressing the government to accept a mere 500 refugees – a fraction of those displaced by the conflict.

Presumably this reluctance to help Syrians is based on fear of a public backlash against immigrants in general – including asylum seekers – and the effect this could have on Labour’s electoral chances in 2015.

Considering the recent flurry of Labour apologies for the ‘mistake’ of opening the country to migrants from Eastern Europe in 2004, it’s clear Labour is worried stiff lest it be seen (shock horror) as the party of immigration – much like it is trying to shed its image as the party of welfare.

As a country, though, do we really have to sink this low to appease the anti-immigration sentiment whipped up by the tabloids? Does the Labour Party, the home of internationalism, not have a role to play in ensuring that we don’t turn our backs on the dispossessed – a greater role than simply helping 500 of them – regardless of what the Daily Mail thinks?

If Nigel Farage is able to make the case for Syrian asylum seekers then Ed Miliband should be able to. Some things are just more important than being popular. Paradoxically, an unpopular but principled move is also very often interpreted as a sign of leadership. And who can say that Ed Miliband doesn’t need to demonstrate a bit more of that?

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8 Responses to “Labour should be arguing for more than 500 Syrian refugees”

  1. uglyfatbloke

    Sadly this is all too true. Just because Farage got rolled over by his party is no reason to ignore the problem. .

  2. Dave Roberts

    I’ll see if this gets through.

  3. Dave Roberts

    The issue isn’t how many refugees we take it is what happens to the regime. It was Labour MP’s who voted against intervention so it hypocritical of them or the party to start saying admit refugees. NATO could enforce quite easily a no fly zone which would greatly hamper the regime forces. It would also demoralise those forces as well. The non Islamist forces should be armed and NATO special forces should be on the ground with them.

  4. Sparky

    This ‘anti-immigration sentiment’ has been caused entirely by the last Labour government who abused the public trust by increasing immigration to 500% of the historic levels since the 1960s. The levels were so high that they tested and eventually broke the patience of a mostly welcoming and tolerant population. And it wasn’t a mistake. It was a deliberate policy decision by phoney, middle class, Oxford-educated, Islington socialists that had nothing in common with ordinary working people.

    If you want to understand the real experience of ordinary people of immigration under Labour, watch the recent BBC documentary with Nick Robinson. In this, Sikhs describe their atrocious experiences with Roma immigrants. Painters and decorators describe how they can’t make a living because wages have fallen so much due to Polish workers sleeping six in a room and sending their wages home. School teachers in classes without a single white face, where 40 languages are spoken.

    James Bloodworth -you are peddling an outdated reality, that no-one believes. It is the ludicrous denial issued by labour ministers that immigration was not too high, and any opposition was simply racism. No-one believes that. The tide of public opinion has turned and it’s not coming back. Labour is forever tainted with its mass-immigration policies and huge chunks of the people who switched to Labour in ’97, like myself, are never coming back. Slagging off the Daily Mail might amuse you but it makes no difference. You will never swing those voters back.

  5. Cole

    Rubbish. You can be in favour of helping the refugees without wanting to invade the place.

  6. Cole

    Oh well, Labour is consistently ahead in most opinion polls.

  7. Mark

    The trouble for me is – not many Syrians could afford to fly *before* the war began; unless the government also provides funds for potential asylum seekers, then the influx is likely to be dominated by the wealthy while the poor rot in Jordanian camps. In practice, this could mean a lot of Assad family sponsors and ex-Baathists. Hardly the stuff of humanitarian triumph.

    Obviously, though, these aren’t the motives underpinning the Labour leadership. (As I’ve been saying since August )

  8. Sparky

    The National Audit Office recently carried out checks on properties provided to asylum seekers and were surprised to find signs of wealth such as iPads and large TVs owned by people who claimed to be destitute. Currently 23,000 asylum seekers receive free housing,

    The report also notes that some local authorities had complained that the number of asylum seekers being housed was having a negative impact on school places and community relations. Some local authorities had requested that they not be sent any more asylum seekers due to concerns over community cohesion.

    Remember: immigration under Labour was 500% of the levels at any time from the the mid 1960s. They used up the population’s good will. And now we don’t any more. The legacy of a Labour government: predominant anti-immigration sentiment.

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