Degrees of despair

It’s not clear whether Theresa May is talking tough for internal political advantage or really believes she can make a positive contribution to a ghastly situation when she presents her plans for dealing with ‘uncontrolled mass migration’ at the UN General Assembly today.

The subtext, of course, is that Britain and other countries should feel fine about erecting walls, whether physical or otherwise, against the crush of despairing people wanting to get in.

May’s line is that a distinction needs to be made between ‘genuine’ refugees and less despairing economic migrants.

A moral philosopher could doubtless help to pick these strands apart, but the idea that people risking their lives in small boats in the hope of a better deal abroad are simply trading a reasonable life for a prosperous one in a foreign country is preposterous. Our new Iron Lady is asking us to make a distinction between levels of abject suffering.

The Turkish authorities have already begun to do this. Processing the visas of thousands of Syrian refugees approved for resettlement in the US, they’re refusing those with a university education on the grounds that – although they’re far from home, have lost all their possessions and have no work – they’re somehow less needy.

Terrible choices. Degrees of despair.

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