Woolas and the problem of overproximity

Jason Parkinson’s article over at Comment is Free yesterday told some really uncomfortable truths about the way migrants in Calais are being handled by the French police, and this is even without watching his horrific video capturing the events. He rightly details the inhumane way some of the people were treated – which contradicts the official line by the French police, and doesn’t come across bombastic when he compares the events of the “jungle” to “German storm-troopers leading lines of Jews away to death”. Viewing this picture (and the many others), for example, draws us right into an emotional quandry.

But it is the question of this overproximity that I find spoils Parkinson’s article, namely on the subject of Phil Woolas’ actions. He says

It is easy for Woolas, back in London, to arrogantly state these men don’t deserve asylum in the UK. But in doing so he exposes his distance from the issue. If he had bothered to go to the camps and squats around Calais and talk to these people, hear their stories first hand – perhaps then he would remember they are human beings and not just a statistic or price tag on a government spreadsheet.

It worries me that by going to the camps Woolas would have been motivated by an emotional overproximity, rather than a rounded judgement based on objective criteria (rather like, I suppose, with the Ghurkas, only its quite obvious Woolas was pushed in the correct direction). Now this of course is not me saying I like the way those mostly Afghan migrants had been treated, but rather, it’s far easier to assert protest without fingering alternatives than it is to agree that someone is doing the best they can. The alternative could not have been to allow all of the campers asylum, since we don’t live in a perfect world.

So real complaints are directed at Woolas, but has he done anything wrong here? This element of a BBC article is what Parkinson is charging against

Immigration minister Phil Woolas said the migrants had no right to claim asylum in the UK, and he questioned whether they were genuine asylum seekers.

“If they were fleeing persecution they have the right to claim asylum in the first country of entry as they leave their own countries,” he told the BBC.

That is what the law states, that a persecuted individual should claim asylum in the first country he or she arrives. Parkinson states that

Turkey and Greece are notorious for making it almost impossible to file an asylum claim, and the refugees view Germany and France as little better

They may well view it as such, but its not true of the latter two, these nations are part of the EU and law states that a person under persecution from a dictatorial government should claim asylum in the country they enter after leaving their own. If those refugees do view Germany and France as a place that is notoriously almost impossible to file asylum, then Parkisnon, no doubt well informed himself, and as a resident photographer in the “jungle” is in the perfect place to correct this view.

What Woolas did was to say that without proof that these guys have real grounds as asylum claimants it is not his duty to allow them to cross the border. I always think that I’d hate to have to make decisions like the one Woolas made, which doesn’t make me prime candidate for his job, but it’s perhaps because I think emotion would get the better of me. For this reason thank goodness nobody allows me such roles, and moreover thank goodness Parkinson didn’t get his way, otherwise politics wouldn’t be grounded on what is right and wrong, but the depth of an emotional attachment.

It all rather reminds me of the example of Arjuna, the King who hesitated to wage bloody war when he recognised his own friends and relatives on the other side of the battlefield, a story that features in the Bhagavad-Gita, the Hindu holy book. He confides in Sri Krishna whom Hindus believe to be an incarnation of God that he feels it wrong to slay kinsmen. Sri Krishna warned Arjuna that it would be a sin to retreat as he is a warrior, a Kshatriya (bearer of authority) whose duty to God it is to serve in battle.

There is an obvious demythologised version, don’t let emotion obfuscate duty – would it not only be unlawful to allow claimants to ignore the established rule that one must claim in the country they arrive in after leaving, but unfair also? The pressure to condone the border cross would in turn deny existing asylum applicants.

Woolas, as controversial as it is amongst the liberal-left, is doing the right thing, and is being professional to boot, by which I mean not allowing emotion to trump. He’s doing the right thing by covering his back and sticking to addressing provable asylum applicants. Perhaps there is a flaw to asylum applications as a system, but one cannot fault Woolas for keeping to this line. Immigration, as I have speculated upon before, is a difficult subject for us on the left, and as much as I’d love to be able to condone borderlessness, I just can’t, and know that it would be to the detriment of that which those who pursue it want to achieve; liberty.

Woolas could’ve quite easily been possessed by proximity, but instead he was absorbed by a professionalism, and should not be vilified by the left for his decision, it’s better to have representing us somebody that will not purposefully shoot themselves in the foot than somebody who ignores the lesson of Arjuna.

the example of Arijuna,
the King who hesitated to wage bloody war when he recognised his own friends and
relatives on the other side of the battlefield, a story that features in the Bhagavad-
Gita, the Hindu holy book. He confides in Sri Krishna whom Hindus believe to be an
incarnation of God that he feels it wrong to slay kinsmen. Sri Krishna warned Arijuna
that it would be a sin to retreat as he is a warrior, a Kshatriya (bearer of authority)
whose duty to God it is to serve in battle.
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