The Channel migrant ‘crisis’ is really a tale of British hypocrisy

Afua Hirsch

Sajid Javid’s rhetoric on refugees has less to do with reason than with appeasing anti-immigrant feeling

Thu 3 Jan 2019


A lot of us have spent the past few weeks telling our children some fairly problematic stuff. That there’s an old man with a beard who breaks into our homes with a reindeer and watches them while they sleep. That it’s acceptable to talk about the ins and outs of a virgin’s womb. That there was a genocidal king who murdered newborn boys. I can’t think of any context in which we would tell these stories other than Christmas, but I suppose we feel they are balanced out by their happy endings. Santa is a creepy idea but he does leave presents. The traumatic experience of being homeless in another town with a birth imminent ends with a baby swaddled happily in a manger. We don’t tend to dwell on the next part, in which the holy family went on to become refugees in Egypt, although the Pope is among the religious figures who has suggested we should think about that more.
You don’t even need to go that far to see what is wrong with this year’s Christmas message though, which, courtesy of Sajid Javid, is that there is officially No Room at the Inn. The home secretary cut short his £800-a-night luxury safari holiday in South Africa to appear to us as a Tory Ghost of Christmas Present, with the message that Britain is now facing a full-on “crisis”.

There were plenty of scenarios that warranted that kind of conscientiousness. More people than ever relied on food banks to get through Christmas this year, around half of them children. More than 130,000 children faced Christmas in a state of homelessness, in temporary accommodation or B&Bs completely unfit for families. Almost every day, a woman is killed or takes her own life because of domestic violence, a form of abuse that often spikes at this time of year.

None of these are serious enough to be considered a crisis, however. That privilege is reserved for the five small boats in which 40 desperate people attempted to cross the Channel on Christmas Day, no doubt hoping to make the case that they deserved to seek refuge in the UK. That’s no small detail – there is a legal right, established in international law, to claim asylum in a country after you arrive there, which these people were within their rights to follow. But Javid wasn’t going to let that get in the way of his ghoulish seasonal performance, having already determined their status for himself as “illegal” migrants.


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