Belfast Telegraph

Tories' attitude to migrant crisis is simply disgraceful

Angela Merkel wants a pan-European agreement on handling the migrant crisis
Angela Merkel wants a pan-European agreement on handling the migrant crisis

By Eamonn McCann

In Passau in southern Germany - population 50,000, half the size of Londonderry - chief inspector Jorg Grossmann takes a break from recording the names and countries of origin of migrants who have been arriving at the town's makeshift reception centre at a rate of 700 a day. A month ago it was 400. Grossmann expects it to continue to rise.

The migrants, he explains, come mainly from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Smugglers drop them off, usually at night, in woods, on farms, on the hard shoulder of roads outside the town. Local people describe opening their curtains in the morning and discovering children, women and men sitting in silence on the kerb for 50 yards in each direction.

"There are too many for anyone to take in. We point them towards the reception centre," explains a resident.

In the top pocket of his uniform, Grossmann carries a supply of Jelly Babies for handing out to children. "We didn't get much special training for this in advance," he says. "But I know how important it is to communicate with these people, to let them know that they are safe now that they are in Germany."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has faced - and faced down - opposition, including from within her own party, to announce that any refugee arriving from Syria will automatically be given asylum.

Almost every Syrian migrant can be accounted a refugee, having fled their homes for safety from the unspeakable violence which has engulfed their country, frequently with a straggle of children behind them, hands clasped to keep together.

Families of decent people driven onto the roads, hunted through ditches, desperate to find sanctuary somewhere. Never can Jelly Babies have meant so much.

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Much of this account is taken or extrapolated from a furious, brilliant piece of reporting by Kate Connolly in the Guardian.

Passau may not be typical. Its attitudes may have been shaped, in part, by the fact that it is more used than most to traffic passing through, sitting at the confluence of the Danube, the Inn and the Ilz on the 'West Balkan Road' - the most efficient route from the Middle East to northern Europe.

It was on a verge of the Balkan Road in Austria that 71 Syrian refugees died of suffocation last week, police reporting that many appeared to have piled themselves one on top of another along the back and sides of the sealed container, presumably in search of a gulp of air.

There have been demonstrations in Germany denouncing the government for its "open door" policy. About 800,000 refugees are expected in Germany this year which, whatever our political attitudes to migration, would be difficult for any country in Europe to absorb.

There are far-Right forces in Germany out to take advantage. Merkel wants a pan-European agreement on handling the crisis.

In the meantime, she has adopted a position which has come as a surprise to those of us who had her down as a hard-faced reactionary (which in economic matters is fair enough).

Ten days ago, Merkel visited a refugee centre in Heidenau which had been attacked by an anti-migrant crowd a few days earlier. Some residents stood in front of her with placards denouncing her as a traitor. She told them directly: "There can be no tolerance of those who question the dignity of other people, no tolerance of those who are not ready to help, where, for legal and humanitarian reasons, help is due."

Can we imagine a British minister saying the like of that? Hardly. Ten days ago, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond delighted the sort of people Merkel had confronted, referring to "millions of marauding African migrants" trying to make it into Britain. David Cameron thinks of the 5,000 migrants clustered in Calais as "a horde". Home Secretary Theresa May suggested last Saturday that only migrants with jobs in Britain already arranged should be allowed through the Channel Tunnel.

The previous day, 200 corpses were found floating in the Mediterranean about a thousand yards from the Libyan shore. Recovered bodies were laid out on the beach. "There is no right word for it," said Mohzsen Ftis of Medecins Sans Frontieres. "In front of me 40 bodies, including women and children."

The Tories would have padlocked the country against them if they'd made it to Calais.

Many of the migrants are fleeing wars sparked by Western action. Cameron could scarcely contain his sense of triumph at the invasion of Libya. Libya is paying the price still, in blood as well as treasure. The evidence suggests that Cameron couldn't care less.

The British Government is a disgrace. They should be ashamed of themselves, but I don't suppose for a moment that they are.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph