It’s a win-win. Show compassion and solve a labour crisis.

I feel myself fortunate to have friends of all nationalities. Of these friends a few have fled from conflict. These include a conservationist, artist, musician, doctor, economist, chemist and locksmith. The countries they have fled from are as diverse as Iran, Serbia and Trinidad. All showed enormous bravery in coming to an alien territory to escape the threat of death in their own countries. All now enrich the lives of those who know them.

We hear a lot about illegal migration. We are naturally suspicious of people we don’t know. Calling individuals migrants dehumanises them, allowing us to not look at the larger picture. It makes us feel we are under threat. However when you look more deeply, there is a very different story.

Fact 1. Illegal migration is a tiny percentage of gross migration. The media would have us believe we are being deluged. In 2023 29,437 people crossed the channel on small boats, down by more than a third from 2022. (statistic.com)  When statistics go down they are rarely reported, leaving a false feeling that the numbers are constantly rising. 

Fact 2. We need migrants. We need dentists and medics, trades-people and carers. We need people to work on the land. Since Brexit we have lost much of our European labour, not least because there is now more red tape for EU citizens to get work permits. We also need overseas students as our universities rely on them in order to survive. 39% of all legal migrants are people coming to the UK to study. ( migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk)

Fact 3. We like the freedom to live wherever we choose. In 2023 98,000 British people emigrated. Don’t we all know people who have chosen to live in France, Spain, Canada, Dubai, Australia and elsewhere? We have no reason to flee our country; it is purely a lifestyle choice.

The world is in chaos at the moment, with wars in multiple countries. In terms of offering asylum surely we would wish to be a humane nation? How often have we recoiled in horror at what happened in nazi Germany and believed it could never happen in the UK? Suella Braverman’s talk of leaving the human rights convention is very scary indeed.

A policy put in place earlier this year was designed to make it more difficult for care workers to bring their families to the UK. A shortage of hospital beds and the knock-on effect of people waiting in ambulances is, in no small measure, a result of the difficulties of finding suitable care packages for patients to allow them to return home.

So on one hand we have a relatively small number of people arriving in small boats, many of whom are highly skilled, who have risked everything and shown great courage and tenacity in making the journey to the UK. On the other hand we have a labour shortage.

There is a beautiful quote by the poet Warsan Shire who says “No-one puts their children on a boat unless the water is safer than the land.” Desperation and expediency means it is not always possible to fill in paperwork. If I was in a war zone, I know I would do anything to escape.

It costs the UK money to hold migrants in boats and hotels while they await processing. It costs money (that could be spent on the NHS or education) to send people to Rwanda. Surely now is the time to embrace migration and its many positives and move forward with compassion and solidarity.

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