On Friday, I signed a petition seeking a debate in the British parliament with the following premise: “Accept more asylum seekers and increase support for refugee migrants in the UK.”
When I signed – at about 7.45 am (British time, which is the same as in Tunisia, where I was) the petition had roughly 352,535 petitions.
Two hours on, the numbers had swollen to 352,788.
That there would be a debate in the UK parliament was certain because all petitions with more than 100,000 signatures are considered.
The problem is I’m not sure how far anything can go to help a perfectly godawful situation other than to rehabilitate Britain a little bit in the world’s eyes as a caring member of the global village.
In a funny sort of way, Britain will be helping itself by taking in refugees. Back in April, before the UK general election, Dr Neil Quilliam of Chatham House had argued exactly that. He saw “proportional asylum in comparison with European counterparts” as a “foreign policy opportunity” for the next UK government. He suggested a targeted two-pronged programme to take in 10,000 Syrians, using two channels. This is what he laid out:
First, the UK should increase the number of refugees admitted under the Vulnerable Persons Relocation scheme – from hundreds at present to 5,000. And second, by granting entry to a further 5,000 refugees through a humanitarian temporary admission programme, selecting those most vulnerable on the basis of established UN criteria.
Few can disagree with the basic premise of what is being suggested. As well as the basis of that petition to the British parliament.
The Syrian conflict shows no sign of ending and the flow of refugees seems set to continue. The Middle East has at least four major takers – Iraq, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon with more than one million each.
Meanwhile, the journey across the waters – to Europe continues. Many will get there. Many won’t and our hearts will be wrung by each harrowing story.
Better perhaps in the short term, to take some of them in and have their goodwill.
No one will say that quite so bluntly, but it’s what people mean when they write “foreign policy opportunity”.