The death of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, who drowned with his mother and brother after their boat sank in the Mediterranean Sea, initially appeared to have caused a marked change in attitudes. The UK announced it would take in 4,000 refugees a year, Canada pledged to resettle 25,000 Syrians, and Germany agreed to take in thousands of people stranded in Hungary.
Six years later and that surge of compassion has faded, with the dead toddler who once helped humanise the crisis seemingly forgotten.
Yesterday saw the arrival of a group of people in Dover, after they were rescued from the English Channel by the RNLI. Some called out “we love you, UK” as they came ashore.
Among the group was a man who carried a little girl wearing a pink onesie. Unlike Alan Kurdi, she was alive but she could easily have suffered his fate as the deaths of 27 people, including three children, in the Channel in late November demonstrated.
Given that almost all those who cross the Channel in small boats legally claim asylum and about half of all asylum claims are accepted, it seems clear that many of the people making this perilous journey are entitled to come to the UK.
Instead of adopting aggressive “push back at sea” policies – with all the risks this entails to fragile dinghies – it would be far better, more humane and, most of all, safer, if the UK created a legal route for asylum seekers to enter the UK from France via a humanitarian visa in accordance with refugees’ rights under the Geneva Convention.
The UK, one of the world’s richest countries, takes in far fewer refugees than many other European countries. Attempting to reduce that number even further means we are shirking our international responsibilities as a nation and our duty, as human beings, to help others in trouble.
As more people attempt to cross the Channel, how we respond will say much about our national character, our collective moral fibre, and who we really are.