East London Humanist chairman Paul Kaufman says we have a moral obligation to help migrants at risk

PUBLISHED: 10:15 24 June 2015 | UPDATED: 10:16 24 June 2015


Since the beginning of the year we have seen ever increasing numbers of men, women and children leave the shores of Africa in the hope of making it to Europe.

Many will have spent everything they have to embark on the journey. It means leaving their home country and risking their lives for a future full of uncertainty. It is hard to imagine what can drive anyone to take such drastic steps. But then it is hard to imagine what it must be like living in a war torn country such as Libya being fought over by violent religious factions such as ISIS.

It is astonishing and shameful to think only a few months ago the governments of Europe, including our own, thought part of the solution lay in not having a task force ready to intervene if the boats capsized, thereby allowing the occupants to drown. As one UK Foreign Office Minister argued, the rescue scheme (Mare Nostrum) created an unintended pull factor which encouraged more migrants to attempt the dangerous sea crossing.

This grossly flawed and immoral policy was quickly revised as it came under public scrutiny and as the numbers making the attempt continued to rise and the death toll continued to mount. Not for the first time we then saw an abrupt turnaround by David Cameron. Thankfully we have now returned to a humane approach, at least to the immediate issue of rescuing people at risk of drowning.

There are no easy answers. However, a starting point is understanding the push factors which drive people to the extreme of risking their lives and fleeing the country they call home. Of course there may be some economic attraction in coming to the UK. But the main impetus behind so many waves of immigration is war and oppression.

It is important to recognise the particular moral obligation owed by this country given that so many of the problems follow on from the disastrous military interventions in Iraq and Libya in which our successive governments have engaged. More from Paul

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