By Catherine Shakdam*
As a “responsible Western nation,” one which values human life, and human dignity – or so we have been told – the UK is now debating whether or not it should allow Syrian children war refugees, aka Syrian war orphans, to step onto British soil as asylum seekers.
While many have expressed a great deal of disgust at the idea that state officials would willingly hold children’s future to ransom to better weigh the political implications of their decision, it is high time we realize that morality and accountability hold not a candle to politicking.
Human suffering does not exactly dictate policies, but if Syria’s war taught us anything it is that tragedies make for wonderful political weapons when played by Western capitals.
I, for one, remember only too well how earlier this year Western mainstream media – politicians in tow – pointed a damning finger at Damascus for allegedly starving innocent civilians in Madaya. How many times did we hear the media wield outrage and self-righteous anger over the plight of Syria’s children? Where has Western compassion gone today? Has Europe’s sense of duty disintegrated, leaving behind only disdain and cold disinterest?
Or is it that Syria’s pain and Syria’s tragedy never really interested, or even moved anyone? Let’s not be naïve here – state officials do not give in to sentimentality! It is power and money which drive their interests, not philanthropy.
How many politicians ever got into politics to make a real difference in the world? And I am not talking about the size of their bank account, or how many magazine covers they will manage to secure during their career.
The world of politics is cold, cruel and completely interest-motivated. Now let’s look again at this grand debate PM David Cameron is grappling with. Because trust me, there is nothing remotely genuine about the Syrian children refugee crisis – only hypocrisy and political grand-standing.
Let’s recall how eager EU capitals were to sign off war refugees to Turkey so that they could avoid the trauma of abiding by their own policies, and their own laws on asylum seeking – never mind the legal paradox, and never mind the human rights violations such a deal inherently entails.
“To achieve its self-imposed goal—a significant reduction in arrivals and an increase in returns to Turkey—policymakers will have to drastically cut legal corners, potentially violating EU law on issues such as detention and the right to appeal,” wrote the Migration Policy Institute this March.
But what of Syria’s war orphans? How will officials, in this case, British state officials, justify their desire to shun, ignore and abandon? How indeed?
Quite simply like they have done so on everything else: play fear, ignorance and bias. Only this time the narrative might require a bit more effort. We are dealing with children after all. Dehumanizing children by reducing their fate to statistics, or prepping them to be potential national security risks is not that simple. Britain still carries a heartbeat!
So how is Britain playing this new dossier up? After initially refusing to back Lord Dubs’ call to open Britain’s borders to children refugees of war – since doing otherwise would essentially condemn thousands to unbearable hardship, if not death – PM David Cameron climbed down from his conservative pulpit to tame a brewing rebellion within his party.
Do not be fooled, Cameron could not care less about Syria’s children. For him refugees are a disposable political tool. The Premier’s change of heart has everything to do with political scoring. I don’t think that the public would have much patience for a heartless leader – at least not openly.
And so Mr. Cameron declared he would not oppose Lord Dubs’ initiative, and would in fact consider allowing “an unspecified number” of refugees into the United Kingdom.
‘Unspecified’ here is the key word. But that’s not all, the Prime Minister made a point at highlighting the need to regulate Britain’s generosity, as not to encourage more children to make the “lethal” journey to the UK.
London’s new rationale is that if it were to allow those refugees, those children already on European soil to come in, the government would open itself up to an uncontrollable wave of migration.
Cold, you say? Fear not, Downing Street has a solution. “Children registered in Greece, Italy or France before 20 March – when the EU struck its refugee deal with Turkey – will be eligible for resettlement in the UK,” the BBC confirmed in a news report.
How does Downing Street rationalize its stance? Downing Street wants to save children from themselves, of course. “It would mean the UK can focus on the most vulnerable children already in Europe without encouraging more to make the journey,” Cameron’s office said in a statement.
The Prime Minister reinforced his position by then telling MPs: “What I don’t want us to do is to take steps that will encourage people to make this dangerous journey because otherwise our actions, however well-meaning they will be, could result in more people dying than more people getting a good life.”
Without playing into demagoguery, I realize that Britain cannot be asked to single-handedly solve the refugee crisis, or offer a home to every single child refugee. Nevertheless, Cameron’s reasoning is a little difficult to stomach.
Is the Prime Minister suggesting that should Britain actually play a role in alleviating Syria’s humanitarian crisis, hordes of children will suddenly hurl themselves at the UK? Really?! Isn’t that a little extreme, or is Cameron looking to fan self-righteous nationalism here?
Covert xenophobia aside, the second excuse Downing Street will likely front is of course the financial impact asylum seekers will have on the British economy.
The argument is actually valid… only it’s not. Before you disagree with me, ask yourself this: how many millions and billions of dollars have been wasted on wars over the decade? How safer are we for it?
How much of that money could have been spent on supporting economic growth?
The only debate we should be having is not whether or not we ought to save children from the horrors of war, but rather how much longer we will tolerate our officials waging illegal wars in the first place.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT, nor do they necessarily represent those of Human Wrongs Watch.
*Catherine Shakdam is a political analyst, writer and commentator for the Middle East with a special focus on radical movements and Yemen.
A regular pundit on RT and other networks her work has appeared in major publications: MintPress, the Foreign Policy Journal, Mehr News and many others.
Director of Programs at the Shafaqna Institute for Middle Eastern Studies, Catherine is also the co-founder of Veritas Consulting. She is the author of Arabia’s Rising – Under The Banner Of The First Imam