As we approach Christmas, ANDREW FISHER suggests that it’s worth recalling something of its true meaning
Shortly after the birth of Jesus, an angel appeared to Joseph and urged him to seek refuge: “Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt!” (as the Editor likes me to cite my sources: Matthew chapter 2, verse 13).
Mary and Joseph and the infant baby Jesus were soon fleeing the tyrannical King Herod.
Two thousand years later, the world still has no shortage of authoritarian dictatorships or totalitarian rulers – and consequently, millions of people are still fleeing persecution, war and famine.
In the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 23:15-16), God advises how to treat someone fleeing persecution: “He shall live with you in your midst, in the place which he shall choose in one of your towns where it pleases him; you shall not mistreat him.”
This week we have learned that all 109 bedrooms at the 4-star Aerodrome Hotel on the Purley Way have been block-booked by the Home Office to be used to house around 140 refugees – including children, some of them infants – who have fled to our shores. This led to cancellation of all the commercial and Christmas party bookings at the hotel.
The Aerodrome is one of at least four Croydon hotels being used to house asylum seekers.
So why are hotels like the Aerodrome and others across the country being used to house refugees, at a cost of £2.3billion?
In large part because the processing of asylum seekers is subject to massive backlogs – with 140,000 cases yet to determine, some going back years, the delays having been caused as the Home Office has sought to “economise”.
Croydon’s Mayor Jason Perry has said that there are now in excess of 1,000 asylum seekers placed in temporary accommodation in the borough. The Conservative Mayor reportedly met with Tory government immigration minister Robert Jenrick and says that he raised issues of funding and safeguarding. The Mayor, who wants to move more asylum seekers outside of the borough, was accused at a recent council meeting by Woodside Labour councillor Mike Bonello as appearing “uncaring”.
Across the world, more than 100million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes according to the UN High Commission for Refugees. Around half of those are displaced elsewhere within their own country, and 86per cent of those who leave their home country stay in a neighbouring country.
This is why countries such as Turkey and Pakistan count their refugee populations not in the tens of thousands but in the millions. The small state of Lebanon has the highest per capita refugee population in the world, hosting almost 1million refugees at the peak of the Syrian conflict.
For the “why-don’t-they-stay-in-France?” brigade, it is worth remembering that France takes more refugees than Britain.
As does Germany.
As does Spain.
Germany has taken in 605,000 Syrian refugees, 147,000 Afghan refugees and 146,000 Iraqi refugees. The UK took just 20,000 Syrian refugees over five years under its “Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme”.
The contrast between the government’s policies and rhetoric in the past year around Ukrainian refugees, compared with its hostile approach to those from the Middle East and Africa, reveals the deep-seated racism that underpins UK asylum policy.
The reason why Syrian refugees, alongside Iraqi, Afghan and Iranian refugees, often risk their lives and climb aboard small boats to cross the English Channel is simple: there are now no safe and legal routes currently open to get to Britain for people from those countries. “Access to asylum should be based on need and the safe routes we have established, rather than the ability to pay,” Home Secretary Suella Braverman wrote recently in a Murdoch rag.
But those “established” safe routes exist only for people from a handful of countries.
For most, the only route to asylum in Britain is via what the government labels “illegal entry” – a fact masterfully elicited from the incompetent Home Secretary by fellow Conservative MP Tim Loughton.
Those refugees who do manage to make it to UK shores and survive the perilous journey are hardly welcomed with open arms. Croydon South MP, Chris Philp, then the immigration minister, showed the full-scale of “compassionate Conservatism” when he accused the people being bundled into the overcrowded and disease-ridden Manston migrant camp in Kent as having “a bit of a cheek” to complain about their conditions.
Manston, on the site of an old Battle of Britain RAF base, was intended by the government to process up to 1,600 migrants per day. But at one point earlier this year, there were at least 4,000 people being held there. Some had been there for more than a month.
David Neal, the independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, found that vulnerable asylum seekers were being guarded by untrained security staff, some of whom were using drugs. Inspectors found a series of grave failures including: portaloos overflowing and the waste seeping into tents; children wearing inadequate clothing; overcrowding; and the sharing of blankets, raising serious concerns for the cross-contamination of diseases.
The Refugee Council documented cases of scabies – calling the conditions “inhumane”.
An outbreak of diphtheria killed one migrant and affected 50 others – but according to the rather less-than-humanitarian MP for Croydon South, they have “a bit of a cheek” to complain about any of this.
It was in 2020, when Philp was relatively new to his ministerial job for “immigration compliance”, that he was mocked for an abject performance in front of the Home Office Select Committee when he was questioned about a series of wild proposals that had been leaked to newspapers.
These included reports that there were discussions about using boats with pumps to generate waves that would push back or even capsize migrant boats. “We don’t have any current plans to do that,” Philp replied meekly.
Philp also refused to rule out the reported possibilities of sending asylum seekers to a remote island or somehow housing them on disused oil platforms in the North Sea.
“It would improve your credibility if you could just rule out some of the completely bonkers proposals,” advised the committee chair, Yvette Cooper, before a Home Office official came to the hapless Philp’s rescue and ruled it out.
Under current immigration rules, asylum seekers are banned from working and are given £8.24 a week, with meals provided at the hotels. Those that live in self-catered accommodation receive £40 a week to cover essentials. It’s hardly the kind of gift-giving generosity engendered in the Christmas story.
For those among us with a more caring attitude towards the new arrivals in our community, Croydon New Communities and Refugee Forum says it urgently needs: baby chairs, winter clothes for all genders and sizes, winter socks, shoes of all sizes, children’s toys.
You can drop off donations at Rosa Parked Cafe, 161 London Road, CR0 2RJ.
I hope you have a wonderful Christmas. I’ll be back in 2023 with my next Croydon column.
- From 2015 to 2019, Andrew Fisher, pictured right, worked as the Labour Party’s Director of Policy under Jeremy Corbyn. He is the chair of the Croydon Central Constituency Labour Party. Fisher is also the author of The Failed Experiment – and how to build an economy that works, and now writes regular columns for InsideCroydon in a personal capacity
Some of Andrew Fisher’s recent columns:
- Croydon surgeries where half GP consultations are by phone
- Tory blame game over bankruptcy points finger at Westminster
- Higher energy bills, higher tax bills and worse public services
- #TheLabourFiles: It’s long past time to clean up the Party
- Forde Report exposes racism, bullying and factionalism in Labour
- Click here for more by Andrew Fisher
- And click here for links to Andrew Fisher’s columns for the i paper
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