Refugees evoke sympathy when we hear about a child drowning, read of harsh lives when people flee from brutal regimes or come across someone sold into modern day slavery. But there are undoubtedly those who see every refugee as a threat to our way of life. The Home Secretary, drumming up support from that second group, spent a long time in Parliament yesterday talking up a small number of cases of abuse or downright criminality by refugees. And we should deal with those bad cases. No one wants criminals to hide behind the kindness of the British people. Sadly it is this Home Secretary and her predecessors, who talk tough but have not dealt at all with the criminal Rochdale child sex abusers and nor has she dealt speedily with the bad cases she mentioned.
But let us see another side. I got a letter from a Waheed Arian who wrote, “I spent my childhood hiding from rockets in refugee camps in Afghanistan. I arrived in London, separated from my family as a traumatised 15 year old…. I had no idea I would end up two decades later fighting Covid-19 on the frontline in A&E.” Doctor Arian was a refugee and is now one of our NHS heroes. Should we send him back or pat him on the back? I know which most of us would do. I met Mrs K many years ago when she and her two frightened-to-death little children arrived at my Advice Bureau. Her husband had been “disappeared” by the Ugandan authorities because he challenged the ruling clique. She had been badly attacked leaving her with a permanent injury. I fought for years to persuade the Home Office bureaucracy that she couldn’t go back to be attacked, maybe killed and her mental health was shattered by the process. These years on those two children with good education thanks to our and now their country, are in good jobs, paying taxes and contributing. And their mum was able to retrain and work in our health system putting something into our society. Don’t be surprised if I tell you I’m proud of Mrs K and Dr Arian. And I’m not remotely prepared to apologise for them. This is a big, decent country and I’m proud when we do the right thing. But I am ashamed of Priti Patel’s Bill which would potentially criminalise lifeboat crews for saving refugees from drowning. Some might disagree with me. But I think most of us know what is right.