Wel­come to Bri­tain, for good and bad

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS -

fu­elled shifts in UK for­eign pol­icy in a pro­found way. The ap­par­ent pow­er­less­ness of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to act in Rwanda and Bos­nia led Tony Blair, among oth­ers, to throw their sup­port be­hind the con­cept of hu­man­i­tar­ian in­ter­ven­tion, tested first in Kosovo in 1999.

The Bos­nian con­flict also had its ef­fect on do­mes­tic asy­lum pol­icy. One of the most suc­cess­ful schemes to set­tle refugees in this coun­try was set up for Bos­ni­ans in 1993 by the Refugee Coun­cil and the Red Cross, who helped set­tle 1,000 men and their fam­i­lies in re­cep­tion cen­tres around the coun­try.

Em­pa­thy can soon turn to fear in the face of the in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ist threat. When it emerged that a Syr­ian pass­port in the name of Ah­mad Al­mo­ham­mad was found next to a sui­cide bomber at the Stade de France, the nar­ra­tive of the at­tacks on Paris be­gan to shift. Could it be that the refugee cri­sis in Syria had been used by the ter­ror­ists to in­fil­trate Europe with ji­hadis? We still do not know the an­swer.

Al­though the self-ap­pointed Is­lamic State has claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tacks, the per­pe­tra­tors ap­pear to have been mainly French and Bel­gian na­tion­als, home-grown re­cruits to the to­tal­i­tar­ian Is­lamist ide­ol­ogy.

And yet, the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment was forced to is­sue a state­ment over the week­end as­sur­ing peo­ple about the vaguely Mus­lim or North African were li­able to ran­dom iden­tity checks at Metro sta­tions across the cap­i­tal.

The con­se­quences of the at­tacks on France 20 years ago are still be­ing felt here in the UK. Many of those sus­pected of in­volve­ment found refuge in Bri­tain, in­clud­ing the prime sus­pect of the Paris bomb­ings, Rachid Ramda.

The French au­thor­i­ties were as­ton­ished that Bri­tain was pre­pared to wel­come Al­ge­rian Is­lamist fig­ures as dis­si­dents, when they saw them as plain and sim­ple ter­ror­ists. Lon­don had al­ready be­come a hub for the Is­lamist op­po­si­tion di­as­pora and the French in­tel­li­gence ser­vices coined the phrase “Lon­don­istan” for the phe­nom­e­non.

A string of ex­trem­ists from around the world was tol­er­ated by the au­thor­i­ties in the mis­taken be­lief that it made Bri­tain safe from at­tack.

Po­lit­i­cal Is­lamists were gen­uinely un­der threat from the op­pres­sive regimes from which they came, but a num­ber of them used their sta­tus as refugees to preach ji­had to Bri­tish youth. Omar Bakri Mo­hammed from Le­banon, Abu Hamza from Egypt and Abu Qatada from Jor­dan be­came re­cruit­ing sergeants for the in­ter­na­tional war against the West.

Bri­tain takes great pride in its history of giv­ing shel­ter to those flee­ing per­se­cu­tion. But no one imag­ined that the in­ter­na­tional asy­lum sys­tem, es­tab­lished af­ter World War II in a direct re­sponse to the Holo­caust, would one day be used to give safe har­bour to those who shared the to­tal­i­tar­ian, an­ti­semitic val­ues of the Nazis.

But then nor had any­one thought there could be such a thing as a rightwing ex­trem­ist dis­si­dent or a fas­cist refugee.

There have al­ready been the in­evitable calls to crack down on asy­lum seek­ers from the Mid­dle East in re­sponse to the Paris at­tacks and the gov­ern­ment will come un­der pres­sure to re­assess the Syr­ian Vul­ner­a­ble Per­son’s Pro­gramme in light of events.

But the 1951 Con­ven­tion on Refugees is a cel­e­bra­tion of shared en­light­en­ment val­ues and it would be a tragedy mul­ti­plied if our em­pa­thy for the suf­fer­ing of the Syr­ian peo­ple also lay dead on the floor of the Bat­a­clan.


Syr­ian refugees ar­riv­ing in Glas­gow this week. They are the first batch of 20,000 to be re­set­tled in the UK by 2020


top right),

Given refuge: Basque chil­dren flee­ing the Span­ish Civil War in 1937 ( top Jewish Kin­der­trans­port refugees ( and Is­lamist cler­ics

Omar Bakri Mo­hammed, Abu Hamza and Abu Qatada

left), ( above left to right)

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