Belfast Telegraph

Refugee crisis: Northern Ireland, and Britain, must open doors to help Syrians

By Liam Clarke

Back in 1938, there was a panic about stateless aliens leaving their own countries to enter the UK - much like now.

"The way stateless Jews from Germany are pouring in from every port of this country is becoming an outrage. I intend to enforce the law to its fullest," Herbert Metcalfe, a magistrate at Old Street, declared. There was one picture in of a Jewish girl being carried away weeping by police so that she could be deported to Warsaw.

We are horrified when we hear this now and we decorate those who broke or stretched the law to protect Jewish refugees from likely death.

To be fair to the Daily Mail and other newspapers that campaigned against accepting refugees, as they do now, they did not know the full horrors Hitler had in store at that stage. There had been warnings, but many could not believe the enormity of the threat.

We haven't got that excuse today. While there aren't gas chambers being built in Syria, there are mass executions and the situation in the horn of Africa, or Libya, is equally precarious.

When David Cameron talked of "a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean, seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain" it was perhaps just a slip of the tongue, but the language is dehumanising.

It feeds a narrative that Britain is the magnet for migrants and that other countries are letting it take the strain. Yet recent figures on asylum applications show Britain well down the list.

At 125,139, it is behind Hungary (129,203), Italy (155,536), Turkey (209,019), Sweden (228,601), France (255,800) and Germany tops the league on a staggering 547,034.

Britain has only about 128 Syrian refugees, earlier this year Germany offered 30,000 places and it now has far more. According to Amnesty International, around 3.8 million Syrians are being hosted by the nation's most immediate neighbours - Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.

Recently, the Christian Embrace organisation meeting in Belfast suggested that we here in Northern Ireland should also be prepared to play our part and pledged to welcome incomers.

In spite of our problems, we live in one of the richest parts of the world.

Our experience of immigration in Northern Ireland has largely been positive - the Mela showed what a success immigrants from the Indian sub-continent have been.

Members of other communities from China, Poland and Vietnam are playing a valuable part in our economy and society. Refugees, in managed numbers, could do the same. We should remember that the countries they come from will not always be basket cases; some are rich in oil and other resources.

If we need a selfish motive to help, it may pay to have friends and contacts in such places.

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