Although the German police are now back at square one (20 Dec), for a while there were reports that the terrorist who drove a truck into Berliners enjoying a Christkindlmarkt a few days before Christmas, was a Pakistani who had arrived in Germany as a “refugee”. Unsurprisingly, Twitter was soon buzzing with people asking what claim this man might have had to refugee status. Pakistan is a Sunni Muslim state where Sharia law enjoys considerable prestige, even as the state clings desperately to some semblance of secular tolerance. It’s often said that whereas in Iran the people are liberal and the government is conservative, in Pakistan it is the other way around. Minorities (mainly Christians, but also Hindus, Zoroastrians, Ahmadis and Shias) can have a tough time in Pakistan, and many seek asylum abroad. If the truck driver was an ISIS supporter then he is unlikely to have come from any of these groups, because ISIS are Sunni Muslims. His reasons for coming to Europe must have therefore been primarily economic, or if religiously/ideologically motivated then they were nefarious.

I suspect, too, that he probably masqueraded as an Afghan. This is easy to do. The Pathans, who live throughout Pakistan (including large numbers in Karachi) but come historically from “Khyber Pukhtunkwha” (what used to be called the “North West Frontier Province”) not only speak the same language but are ethnically identical with many Afghans and even refer to themselves as “Afghans”. In the so-called ‘Tribal Areas’ the border is porous and Pakistanis and Afghans cross the border all the time. Also, a few decades ago, cities like Peshawar were full of Afghan refugees meaning that many locals learned Dari alongside their native Pashto. Therefore, for a Pakistani national to pass himself off as an Afghan in Europe would be as easy as an Englishman passing himself off as a Scot or a Welshman in Jalalabad.

Soon after 9/11, so 15 years ago, I volunteered a few hours a week to act as a translator for Afghan refugees at a detention centre in the UK. Of the dozen or so asylum seekers I spoke to, I had no doubt that all but one were Pakistanis. They mainly spoke the ‘hard’ form of Pashto found in Pakistan and tended to use loan-words from Urdu, rather than Dari. They also seemed curiously ignorant of Afghan history, politics and culture. Of course, they may have simply been ‘Pakistani-ised’ by several years in a Pakistan refugee camp, but then from an Afghan’s point of view, after fleeing first the Soviets, then the Warlords, then the Taliban, Pakistan should have been a “safe” country.

It didn’t bother me in the slightest whether they were ‘genuine’ Afghans, or Pakistanis trying their luck — they were being detained as illegal immigrants and deserved to be treated with kindness. The question of their actual status was a matter for the immigration authorities and courts. But the mere suggestion that an asylum seeker may not be precisely what he claimed to me was regarded, by the charity, as an appalling slur. I soon found myself without anyone to visit!

And that is the problem. A kind of virtue-signalling denial of the complex facts, that ultimately harms genuine refugees.

Don’t just blame the Germans

Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I am a dreadful liberal when it comes to the free movement of people. Plenty of UKIP supporters have unfollowed me and blocked me for these views. I’m not in favour of completely open borders, but because I am a ‘right-winger’ — a free-market liberal — I am also ‘liberal’ when it comes to immigration. I set out a few thoughts on the topic on this blog just before the Referendum (when I feared that the anti-foreigner rhetoric was going to lose it for the Leave side) here.

In the current debate however, I won’t join the chorus of criticism directed against Angela Merkel. Whether we are trying to understand the EU or the refugee crisis, we need to be mindful of German history. We cannot forget that, within living memory, Germany was herself the cause of one of the greatest waves of desperate refugees seen in modern Europe. Germans themselves are also painfully aware that racism and sensitivity to ethnic difference played a part in this. The whole EU deserves blame for the current mess, of course (though again one must consider the long shadow cast by war in Europe).

But alongside the EU itself (national governments, the EU Commission and Parliament, and so forth) I want to consider the role played by their fellow travellers and cheerleaders — the well-meaning people and organisations, the virtue-signallers and the useful idiots who have legitimised the EU’s cack-handed and weak-willed approach to ‘refugees’.

Genuine Refugees

When we think of refugees, we probably think of the people we see in the picture above — mainly the elderly, women, and children. More than half of the refugees in the world come from three countries: Somalia, Afghanistan and Syria (though many ‘Syrian’ refugees are originally refugees from Iraq). The country which takes most refugees is Turkey (2.5m), followed by Pakistan (1.6m Afghans) and Iran (almost 1m Afghans). Ethiopia  has given refuge to three quarters of a million Somalis. Other nations taking significant numbers of Syrians are Lebanon (1.1m) and Jordan (0.66m) — both huge figures in proportion to their size, and wealth.

Most Europeans, when asked, say they are in favour of their own country taking in refugees. This is unsurprising and reassuring. I’m sure anyone who goes to church this Christmas will listen to a sermon reminding them that Jesus, Mary and Joseph were first homeless (Bethlehem) and then refugees (Egypt). But people never like to feel that their kindness and hospitality is being abused. They want to feel confident that the refugees they wish their country to welcome are, in fact, refugees.

What we have seen in Europe is two-pronged virtue-signalling. The first prong is “refugee competition”. If France takes, say, 10,000 refugees, then charities and campaigners (and Twitter warriors) put pressure on the UK to take 20,000.

The second prong is a knee-jerk response to the heart-rending spectacle of the suffering and, frequently, death of refugees that we see reported in the media. We see a boat capsized, we see a child’s body on a beach and we yell, understandably enough, “Something must be done!”

Yes, but what is to be done?

The standard “SJW” answer is to open the borders, to take anyone who comes — a line which seemed to persuade Angela Merkel when she dropped any pretence of observing the EU’s own Dublin Regulation last year and announced, in effect, that any Syrian (and therefore anyone pretending to be Syrian) who could get to Germany could claim asylum there. The undoubted effect of this ‘policy’ has been to encourage the people smugglers — in other words the very people who take large sums of money to put people’s lives in danger in the backs of lorries and unseaworthy boats. And the whole cycle begins again. More deaths, more media/Twitter outrage, and more clamouring for the opening of borders.

People then begin to notice that, in pictures of refugees to Europe, the elderly, women and children are curiously inconspicuous. Instead they see able-bodied young men of fighting age. The fit young men are indeed seen fighting, but it is over access to power-points to charge their smartphones. Europeans also notice that many of the refugees are quite obviosuly not Syrians, but sub-Saharan Africans. Of course anyone can understand why a young man from Nigeria might want to make his way to Europe for a better life, but it’s hardly unreasonable, given what is happening in Syria, to feel that there are others with a more urgent claim upon safe harbour.

These perfectly reasonable, humane concerns are quickly silenced, however. Do you want refugees to die in the Mediterranean? Can you even understand the hell that these people have escaped from? And woe betide you if you mention that Australia’s asylum policy has reduced illegal boats (and refugee deaths on those boats) to almost zero — everyone knows that the Australian policy is nasty and racist! They are taking 25,000 extra Syrian refugees a year you say? Pah! A drop in the ocean! In this context, that last figure of speech just sounds like a sick joke.

The heartbreaking photo of Aylan Kurdi on a Turkish beach persuaded many that child refugees must be a priority, and who could argue with that? Indeed, very few did argue with it. So organisations like Citizens UK (normally a source of sensible, community-led solutions to social problems) began to beat the drum for children in France. France! A safe, democratic country (and member of the EU). Admittedly, the campaign was officially about ‘uniting families’, but these children (if, indeed, children they were) were not imprisoned by the French, nor were they in danger in the way that children in Aleppo are in danger.

So what should the EU (and therefore Germany, and the UK) have done? What could they still do?

Be more proactive, and less reactive

The priority should be those refugees in the camps (Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and even Iraq). These countries have borne the brunt of the burden of the refugee crisis and all are at risk of destabilisation, which is the last thing anyone wants to see in the Middle East. An aspect of this focus should be a diplomatic effort to ensure that other countries in the region play their part, too (We’re looking at you, super-rich Saudi Arabia and UAE). But desperate people tend not to flee danger by helicopter or airline. They will be found in neighbouring countries. It is there we will find the elderly, the women and the children. This aspect is crucial. There must be an orderly, legal way for genuine refugees to find their way to Europe. If there is not, then they will sell their kidneys to pay the people-traffickers.

The parallel policy should be to stop the people smugglers by making their supply lines useless, and that means Europe having a common policy on refugees, rather than a competitive “We’ll take more than you” or “If you get here, we’ll take you” one. The Dublin Regulation is no longer fit for purpose (if it ever was). It means that frontier countries (Hungary, Greece, Italy, etc.) are inundated and tempted to grant asylum as quickly as possible so that refugees will then use EU freedom of movement to make their way to other countries. Simply ‘making it’ to Europe should not be enough. The rules need to change so that would-be refugees must be returned to their point of origin.

Once the message hits home that a dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean is not likely to lead to a new life in Europe (in fact, the opposite) and that a suffocating journey in a lorry over land will simply lead to immediate expulsion, then the people smugglers will lose their ‘product’. The leaking boats full of people will decline, but so will the deaths.

Virtue-Signalling is a Vice

Of course the virtue-signallers will wail and shout and say that this is inhuman and callous. But such vapid stupidity must be challenged. They are responsible for a mishmash of a ‘system’ which favours young, able-bodied men over the elderly, women, children and families. They give tacit approval to a system which rewards those who make use of the people smugglers — people smugglers who have no care for human life whatsoever and for whom the transportation of desperate migrants is often a sideline to their main business of trafficking women and children into the illegal sex trade. They unwittingly encourage poor Africans to set sail in dangerous and even lethal craft by refusing to countenance any policy that seems ‘too Australian’. They refuse to accept that even to talk of ‘genuine’ or ‘bogus’ asylum seekers or refugees is permissible. In the final analysis, when it comes to the virtue signallers and their #RefugeesWelcome t-shirts and hashtags, it’s not about refugees at all. Of course not.

It’s about them.