A few pieces on the Syrian refugee crisis have been published by philosophers in the last couple of days. If you know of others please do mention them in the comments.
The question of how many refugees to accept is purely a political one, not an economic one. Government officials have claimed that it’s a better use of public funds to help abroad. But that’s completely wrong. If we let refugees in and allow them to work (as they would be keen to do), the evidence shows that the standard of living and unemployment rates for UK natives would remain about the same; the main effect is to radically increase the quality of life for the refugee. Compare the situation now to the Hungarian revolution of 1956: Austria, still broken from the second world war, took in 2% of its population in refugees, and emerged even stronger as a result. The UK could welcome hundreds of thousands of refugees to work here without damaging our economy.
This is not about us. It is not entirely clear whether we would suffer from increasing our refugee intake. But suppose we did. How could we possibly lose anything close to what these families would gain from being here? And how is it that our being lucky enough to be born into affluence could possibly justify not sacrificing some of that for those born into warzones? How can we talk so much about our own economic growth and yet ignore the families torn apart around the world, who come humbly to us, knocking on our door for help? Economics is important. And practical politics is important. But it is all worthless if it is not put to the service of those who need our help most desperately.
And our own Jenny Saul writes in the NewStatesman:
To some, this attack [on the use of the term ‘migrant’] is baffling. A migrant is just a person who migrates, surely, and these people are migrating. What can be wrong with this truthful description? One thing that might be wrong with it, however, is that, according to the UN, that’s not what a migrant is:
The term ‘migrant’… should be understood as covering all cases where the decision to migrate is taken freely by the individual concerned, for reasons of ‘personal convenience’ and without intervention of an external compelling factor.
While maybe among the desperate risking their lives to escape places like Syria and Afghanistan, there is a person or two who has joined them for reasons of “convenience”, these people are surely vanishingly rare. According to the UN, then, it is simply factually wrong to call these people migrants.
But why, a more compelling objection goes, should we even care about language? People are dying and need help, and there goes the left again worrying about words. The reason to care about language is that the language we deliberate in shapes our deliberations.