Let Them In

There are a dozen of arguments to be made about immigration, but the immediate moral issue is clear. Whilst we squabble about the future of these ‘migrants’, ‘immigrants’, ‘asylum seekers’ or ‘refugees’, arbitrarily labelling them ‘economic’ or ‘legitimate’ to suit one argument or another, they suffocate and drown.

Let them in.


Some argue that an ageing Europe needs immigrants to avoid economic decline. Others argue that if this is true in the mid- and long-term, there are still sufficient unemployed young people and women to take up the short-term slack.

Some argue that the ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity that follows from large-scale immigration is harmful. England for the English, Hungary for Hungarians. But the greatest civilisations of the world have thrived on diversity, and the world is smaller now – the parochial values of nationalism, ethnic, cultural, and religious homogeneity belong to the past.

Today, our values are supranational or global. Democracy, justice, human rights, equality of opportunity, tolerance. They transcend the particular customs and whims of a single group, and have nothing to do with creed.

Some argue that these people’s problems are not our problems. But in many cases it is the rich world’s meddling (usually driven by an insatiable thirst for oil) that have created the conditions they flee. What good came of our hundred years of meddling in Iraq, in Libya, in Afghanistan, in Syria?

Some argue that immigrants are a terrorist threat. But surely, well-funded terrorists can find a more convenient way of infiltrating Europe than through the fields of southern Europe and under the razor wire, or across the choppy seas of the Mediterranean in unseaworthy vessels.

There are many more arguments for or against. And whilst we argue, these desperate people drown and suffocate, prey to the people-smuggling scum who profit from their misery.

What I miss is kindness. Angela Merkel’s words stand out from the harsh, pragmatic words of her counterparts. And yet Germany has accepted twelve times as many immigrants in 2015 than Britain.

Quoting from the Guardian:

“There can be no tolerance of those who question the dignity of other people,” she said, standing in front of placards accusing her of being the people’s traitor. “There is no tolerance of those who are not ready to help, where, for legal and humanitarian reasons, help is due.”

And then there is our hypocrisy.

How often do our guide books extol the generous hospitality of the Arab world? And yet how hard we find it to reciprocate.

How often have we ourselves fled our own nations, and been received generously by others? Think of Hungary in 1956.

Whatever the causes, the immediate situation requires just one response. Let them in.

Putin’s Pencil

There was much amusement at Vladimir Putin’s snapping of a pencil at his meeting with Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande and Petro Poroshenko in Minsk a few weeks ago. The four of them were negotiating a ceasefire in Eastern Ukraine, and no doubt you could cut the atmosphere with a knife.

putin pencil

I like to think that the pencil snapping meant that Putin wasn’t entirely getting his own way. Certainly it was remarkable, in that Putin doesn’t usually show his feelings. Dignity of office, I suppose, and the great weight of responsibility that he bears, do not permit the Russian President to smile, or do those endearing human things like engaging in folksy chit-chat about hiking with Angela, or simply being charmant like Francois, or twinkly like Petro.

But I think Putin’s interlocutors got off lightly. Meetings can be hazardous.

Just think about what happened when Vlad the Impaler, bent on consolidating his own power, invited a gaggle of regional nobility to a dinner party in 1456. Following the, no doubt, meaty meal, he had the old and infirm immediately murdered and marched the remaining guests 50 miles to a dilapidated castle. He put the surviving nobles to hard labour restoring it. Most died from maltreatment and exhaustion; and those who didn’t were impaled on spikes outside the castle when restorations were complete


And think of poor Alexander Litvinenko’s tea party at the Millenium Hotel in 2006. Invited to meet some former KGB colleagues (possibly they were friends of Mr Putin) he was poured a strong cup of Polonium tea, and died three weeks later.

Then there’s the early Reformation figure, Jan Hus. He was invited, on the promise of free passage, to a pow-wow in Constance, but was imprisoned, tried and burnt at the stake.

I think Angela, Francois and Petro got off quite lightly.