Thursday 10 March 2022

Why the Government does so little for Ukrainian refugees.


Around two million Ukrainians have fled from the Russian armed forces terrorising their country. The vast majority (more than 1.2 million) have gone to Poland. This is something quite remarkable if you know anything about the history of Poland.

Much of Western Ukraine was part of Poland until 1939 when the Soviet Union attacked it in cooperation with Germany and later incorporated it into the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Up to one hundred thousand Poles were massacred in Wołyń and Eastern Galicia by their Ukrainian neighbours. Yet all of this has been not only forgiven, it is as if it has been forgotten by the Poles. It is a remarkable story of reconciliation that people who nurse grievances of a far lesser scale could learn from.

But there is something else that is remarkable about this story. Only a few weeks ago Belarus was flying people from the Middle East and sending them towards the Polish border. The Poles responded by building a wall. Very few refugees were able to get to Poland. Why such a difference in response?

The UK at the moment has taken very few refugees from Ukraine. The Home Office is being bureaucratic and making it difficult for Ukrainians to come to Britain. There is a reason for this. Accepting refugees into Britain is politically controversial. Mass immigration is an important issue for many British voters.

Britain could for instance grant visas to all refugees in France who want to come here. This would save them risking their lives in rubber dinghies. But we don’t because public opinion wants to limit the number of refugees coming to Britain. Many British people think that France should take them instead.

But public opinion is not opposed to Ukrainian refugees coming to Britain. Many British people are angry with the Home Office for not doing more to help. But if that same Home Office offered visas to those in France there would be opposition.

We are no different from the Poles, but in Britain we are unable to be honest about it. It is this that is leading the Government to make a mess of this issue. There is a very good reason why public opinion is so different about refugees in France who want to come to Britain and refugees in Ukraine and it is not because we have the War in Ukraine on our TVs every day.

When Russia intervened in the Syrian Civil War it did to Syrians something very similar to what it is now doing to Ukrainians, but this did not mean that we wanted large numbers of Syrians to be given visas to live in Britain. We could have airlifted thousands and settled them here, but we chose to allow only a token trickle to come.

Syrians suffered just as much as Ukrainians, but if they had turned up on the Belarussian border or if they were in France trying to get to Britain, there would have been no demand to immediately give them visas or to allow them to come here with neither passports nor documents. There is a reason for this too, but we are not allowed to admit it.

The failure to tell the truth about our different reactions to war in Syria and war in Ukraine is the reason why the Home Office is unable to make a distinction between Ukrainian refugees and Syrian refugees. The Home Office thinks that because British public opinion would oppose allowing Syrian refugees to arrive here en masse it must treat Ukrainians in the same way. It would be unfair and unequal not to.

In an abstract way we recognise the common humanity and equality we share with everyone on the planet, but when we actually think as human beings, we would care more about a maternity hospital being bombed in our own town than one bombed in Mariupol and we quite possibly would not pay much attention at all if it was in Aleppo. This doesn’t mean we are hypocrites or immoral. It just means that we are human beings.

But the problem is that we are continually told that it is the worst possible sin to make any distinction at all between people on the grounds of nationality or race or religion. It is impossible therefore to even have a conversation about why the Poles built a wall to keep out one group of refugees, but apparently are willing to open their arms without limit to people whose grandfathers may have been their enemies.

It is for this reason that we have dishonest conversations about refugees, migration and immigration. We ought to treat everyone equally, but in fact we wish to discriminate. But this inconsistency does not make us wicked, it makes us like every other human being on the planet. The need to discriminate is part of our common humanity.

Poland is happy to take millions of Ukrainians, because Poles recognise them as similar people to themselves. They know that if some of those Ukrainians choose to stay in Poland permanently within a generation, they would be indistinguishable from other Poles. The same goes for Britain. The descendants of Polish refugees who stayed here after the Second World War are now no different from anyone else.

Poles knew that if large numbers of people on the Belarus border came to Warsaw, it would eventually change the character of Warsaw beyond all recognition. They have been to Britain and seen what has happened to some of our cities. It is for this reason they built a wall.

In Britain we also have a metaphorical wall. The Home Office does its best to discourage refugees who it could easily help to arrive here. If Poland can take more than a million refugees in a few days, Britain could easily send planes to every conflict in the world offering to give a home to anyone in need.

If all human beings are equal and equally deserving of our help then why don’t we go into Middle Eastern refugee camps handing out visas and plane tickets? These people have just as much need as Ukrainians.

Human beings discriminate. Our families are most important, then our fellow countrymen and then those who are most similar to us. But we are forbidden from being honest about this, because we have been conditioned for decades to lie about the transformation of our own society and to condemn anyone who tells the truth. Failure to lie gets you cancelled.

We would mind no more if a million Ukrainians came to Britain than we did when a million Poles came, but we would mind very much indeed if we treated the refugees from all conflicts anywhere in the world that way.

It is the dishonesty about this that makes the Home Office do so little and the Poles do so much.