Frazzled British holidaymakers “desperately” trying to reach France for your annual sojourn, have no fear! Café Rouge in Canterbury is here. The chain is offering those stuck in Operation Stack on the M20 a free tea and slice of cake if they happen to be diverted towards Canterbury – you know because of all that unfortunate nonsense going on at Calais. Little ones eat free! And if the family phone still has battery after hours of “hell” on the motorway, you can tweet about the experience using the special hashtag #RouteRouge.
Pass the sick bucket.
I’m not making this up. And while I do have sympathy for anyone stuck in the traffic jam that’s cost UK industry millions, I’m reserving my compassion for a group who really could murder a slice of cake.
Just 21 miles from Britain there is a jungle. Or to give it its full name: Jungle Camp. This is where hundreds of displaced people from all over the world live in some of the most wretched conditions. Stuck in a no-man’s land in Calais, they are living in temporary cardboard structures and surviving on porridge made out of milk and soggy bread. Not that you will probably have paid them much attention over the last week.
Among all the discussion of “secure fencing” and “delayed journeys”, our human compassion has deserted us. We have it in spades when we are reminded of suffering that doesn’t interfere with our holidays or freight:remember the collective horror earlier this year when desperate migrants had to be saved by gunboats in the Mediterranean? Where is it now?
Even the language that’s being used to describe the mostly male Eritreans, Ethiopians, Afghans and Sudanese trying to live in Europe is mechanical at best, and dehumanising at worst. Emergency government meetings are being held to ensure there is “upstream management of illegal migratory flows”. Excuse me? These are real people, with hearts, families and lest we forget it, human rights. What if they were children instead of young men? Would we feel differently?
Moreover, we have very little idea if they are asylum seekers or economic migrants – because guess what? No one is engaging with them. Even a brilliant and emotional BBC Newsnight film filmed inside Jungle Campfailed to achieve full clarity when speaking to inmates.
We must also face the facts. The UK isn’t a soft touch when it comes to “letting everyone and anyone in”. According to the UN Refugee Agency, at the end of 2014, the population of refugees, pending asylum cases and stateless people made up just 0.24 per cent of the UK population. That’s 117,161 refugees, 36,383 pending asylum cases and 16 stateless people.We take fewer asylum seekers than many other countries. Turkey has the highest number at 1.6m, followed by Pakistan at 1.5m.
This country has a proud history when it comes to taking in the needy. Let’s not let ourselves down because we’re impatient for a holiday or a booze cruise. It’s time to see the bigger picture and stop the lamentable narrowing of our horizons. An island nation we might be, but that doesn’t have to mean our mentality must follow suit.