In Western Europe, there is still an overwhelming political and social price to pay for appearing to be against mass immigration.
Public opinion polls may consistently show the public to be opposed to mass migration. But in public, it remains most acceptable, and indeed commonplace, to continue to utter bromides about the benefits that migration brings, including the advantages of any and all illegal immigration.
Recently on the BBC’s main political discussion program, Question Time, the panel was asked about immigration and, as so often in the British immigration debate, the subject of the situation in Calais, France came up. Over recent years Calais has repeatedly become the place for illegal camps of illegal migrants to congregate, in the hope of moving from France to the UK. Some of these migrants attack lorries and disable vehicles to try to climb aboard them. Others attempt other ways to get through the Channel Tunnel, either on a vehicle or on foot.
Of course, if these people were genuine asylum seekers with genuine asylum claims, they have already passed through several countries in which they could and should have claimed asylum. That they are congregating around the entrance to the Channel Tunnel in Calais is a demonstration not that they are legitimate asylum seekers in search of safety, but illegal migrants seeking to get into Britain.
Like everything else in the immigration debate, and often life, feelings most of the time trump facts. The discussion on the BBC’s Question Time was, in that sense, utterly typical. One of the guests on the panel was the Hollywood scriptwriter Dustin Lance Black. A social and political liberal, Black used his time there to make one extraordinary claim in particular:
“Understand that some of these people who are in Calais trying to get here. They’re not coming to try and steal from you or to ruin your culture. They’re coming here because you’re a giant, beautiful beacon of hope for them. And I hope that the government finds it in their heart to spend some of that money to make sure that their conditions are liveable there and to let some of them in, to share their goodness with your greatness.”
This speech was greeted with a roar of applause from the audience and audible approval from other members of the panel including the Conservative cabinet minister, Margot James. No one asked what there is in the hearts of the migrants of Calais that is so very “good”, and what “goodness” is so lacking in the hearts of the British people that it needs topping-up from the camps of Calais.
So even in a society as self-delusional and self-forgetting as modern Britain, it is worth reflecting on just two recent cases of people who did not bring only “goodness” when they came from Calais.
At the beginning of January, Munir Mohammed of Derby was convicted of an attempted terrorist attack. It is believed that Mohammed and two collaborators were planning a Christmas terrorism spectacular involving a bomb attack. Mohammed was apparently only days away from achieving his aims when he was arrested by the British police. And where was Mohammed from? Born in Eritrea, he grew up in neighboring Sudan. In June 2013, he and his pregnant wife left for Europe and took the now traditional route into Turkey and from there into Europe via the Greek island of Samos. Somewhere on the route from Athens through the Balkans, his wife lost her baby and he promptly dumped her.
By January 2014, Mohammed had reached France and from there he managed to pay a smuggling gang to get him through the Channel Tunnel. He successfully hid in a lorry in order to reach the UK, and got out of the lorry on the motorway service station on the M1. After applying for asylum, he got caught in the long backlog of cases, met a new girlfriend, and with her and another accomplice plotted to carry out a mass casualty terrorist attack that was only very narrowly averted.
Also this January, the British courts saw 18-year-old Ahmed Hassan Mohammed Ali. Born in Iraq, he came to the UK illegally via Calais in 2015. He now stands charged with leaving a bomb on a London Underground train at Parsons Green tube station last September during the morning rush hour. The detonating part of the device went off, causing minor burns to some of the passengers and leading to a stampede in which a number of schoolchildren on the train were hurt. Fortunately, however, the device itself failed to go off, so a bomb that would have led to dozens of body bags being needed again in London resulted instead only in minor injuries and a lot of terrified children.
Ahmed Hassan Mohammed Ali and Munir Mohammed are both migrants from Calais. Both were in Britain illegally. Still, the question fails to get asked of people such as Dustin Lance Black: “What exactly did we gain from their presence in our country? And what exactly was the ‘goodness’ that you think they brought?” That such people would probably have no answer to this question is one thing. That so few people would even bother to ask such questions publicly is another. But one day they will ask, and with increasing — and justifiable — anger.