Some 250 years ago former Hastings Mayor John Collier wrote to HM Customs warning:
“The smugglers are got to an amazing height on the Kentish and Sussex coasts that it has for some time become a very serious thing … in regard to the vast quantitys of goods clandestinely imported.”

Substitute ‘people’ for ‘goods’ and you have all the makings of our current problem. People smuggling has been big business in the Mediterranean for years. Now suddenly it’s closer to home. When the camp in Calais was full it seemed not a question of if, but when they would be crossing the channel in small boats. 

18th century gangs found the coastline round southeast England excellent for undetected landings. Owlers illegally exporting wool would row between England and France. For anyone prepared to risk the perilous voyage from North Africa across the Med to Brindisi or Lesbos (more than a 1000 drowned in 2018) the English Channel must look as benign as Hastings’ boating pond.

Yet so unexpected, so shocking, was the news that a few dozen refugees have arrived by boat from France that the Home Secretary curtailed his Christmas holiday and flew 6,000 miles to take charge of the crisis. Sorry, no crisis, a “major incident”… but enough of an incident to consider deploying the Navy as well, as the Army and the Air Force.

What cant and hypocrisy? Everyone knows it’s about whipping up anti-immigrant feeling in advance of May’s doomed Brexit deal vote. 

The asylum seekers are mainly Kurds from Iran, Syria and Turkey. The ethnic group that provided fighters for the West to use against ISIS. Now they’ve been abandoned. President Trump pulls US troops out leaving them dangerously exposed and Turkey resumes its relentless civil war against them. Little wonder the Kurds – among the most oppressed people in the world – are fleeing war and persecution and a few are seeking asylum in Britain.

Instead of sending them back to France (and doubtless paying the French zillions to take them), perhaps we might consider plugging some of the holes in our health and care system or offering them the seasonal work on farms abandoned by East Europeans over Brexit?

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