Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Kindness to children: too much to ask?

“It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.” So the King James Bible tells us (Luke 17:2).

It seems that, in spite of the behaviour of certain of its priests at certain times, Christianity as a belief system feels children should be protected from harm. I suspect most of us, of any faith or none, would agree.

Some of the unhappier kids on the planet, or certainly Europe, have been living in dire conditions in improvised shelters in a makeshift camp called ‘The Jungle’, outside Calais in France. They have been waiting for the opportunity to cross the Channel, legally or illegally, to find refuge in Britain. Altogether, there are some 10,000 migrants in the camp, of whom about 1200 are children. They come predominantly to be from the horn of Africa, the war-torn areas of Syria or Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. So they are escaping war or desperate poverty.

The Calais Jungle: not the most salubrious of places
The French authorities are about to close down the camp, and have asked Britain to take some of the refugees, particularly the most vulnerable. That means, above all, the unaccompanied children. It seems that under the terms Britain has negotiated for accepting some of these children some 400 would eventually come in.

Net migration to the UK – the difference between immigration and emigration – is currently over 330,000 a year. It’s hard to see how 400 would make a huge difference. Even 500, if it came to that. But even so some are cavilling at the idea of letting them in.

This reminds me of the phenomenon of the Kindertransporte in the last nine months leading up to the outbreak of the Second World War in Europe. They brought 10,000 unaccompanied Jewish children to Britain. ‘Unaccompanied’ because they often left the rest of their families behind. That meant that in most cases, they became the only members of their families to survive the war.

I’m not being churlish. It was an admirable, wonderful initiative. The churlish ones were those who spoke out even then against our taking these kids – and successfully spoke out against taking their parents. We know the results: 10,000 were saved but 6 million died. It seems shamefully ungenerous, a callous indifference to the fate of others, that condemned millions to die rather than suffer some discomfort ourselves.

Now we’re seeing the same arguments again, but for even more trivial numbers. We’re talking about a few hundred children, but there are people in Britain who feel they shouldn’t be taken. And those people maintain that if, grudgingly, the children are taken, then we must above all ensure that the ones who come are truly children.

In general, nothing special happens to us during the night before our eighteenth birthday. For the vast majority of people, the most significant aspect of that moment is the drink consumed. In our first day aged 18, we’re not particularly more resistant to suffering than we were on our last day aged 17. So if a few people aged 18, or even 19, make it, why should we care? I’d rather a few people who are technically adults sneaked in, than to leave a few real children behind.

That’s not the way it’s seen. There’s been a fuss about the refugees who look clearly over 18. Of course, the people making their case rather weakened it by pointing to one such person in particular, who was indeed well over 18, but turned out not to be a refugee but an interpreter. Ah, well. Who cares about accuracy when you’ve got a case to make against immigration?

The most remarkable claim of all, though, was made by a Tory MP. David Davies says we should carry out dental checks on all the refugees to establish their age. I’m glad to say the suggestion has been greeted with something of an uproar, not least from dentists who point out that the process is likely to be incorrect in 50% of cases. Davies replied on Twitter that he begs to differ with them, and who would you believe when it comes to examining teeth, a fully-fledged Tory MP or a mere dentist?

But what I liked most about Davies is that he is described – which I suspect means he describes himself – on Wikipedia as a Christian.

I’m inclined to say, “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he be allowed to look into the mouths of these little ones. Even if they’re not quite as little as they claim.”


Anonymous said...

Well so you think net migration of 330000 or similar is good and totally support individuals cheating the system is great. It's hard to understand why supporting those deserting their home nation will have any impact on resolving the conflicts in that nation, the nfact probably the opposite. I did spend my early youth living in Baghdad and civil car reigned then and every day as a child I saw much first hand. My father was establishing a department within the university at Baghdad. Modern media and Nancy state politics has a great burden to bear.

David Beeson said...

You're putting words in my mouth which I haven't spoken...

When a man has been injured in a place he shouldn't have been the first concern, if you have any compassion, is to tend to his injuries. Then you can take up the issues of his behaviour with him.

The kids are there, in the camp. It would have been far better had they never been there, but there they are. The issue to deal with is how to help unaccompanied minors surrounded by strangers. The rest comes later.

Interesting that you were in Baghdad. I can imagine it can't have been easy.

Anonymous said...

Life in Baghdad was starnge we lived in that part of the world for about 2 years and lived a comfortable life financed by the UK tax payer, how things have changed. What was odd was how dy to day civilian life continued side by side with war, it was normal for the population. In those days it was a ground war Ariel warfare was not a part of the conflict and it was very much a 9 to 5 war each day with both sides packing up for dinner and a good nights sleep. I have all my fathers old slides from our stay. I clearly remember one day we traveled to Syria by road and the custome post had been shelled a few minutes before our arrival, on arriving it was deserted and burning, such was life. Is the current conflict ours or theirs and should the west have any involvement at all.