Posted on April 28, 2023

‘Values and Lifestyles’ of Small Boat Refugees Threaten Social Cohesion, Says Jenrick

Rajeev Syal, The Guardian, April 25, 2023

The “values and lifestyles” of people crossing the Channel in small boats threaten the UK’s social cohesion, the immigration minister has claimed, in comments that have been described as “dog-whistling to the far right”.

Amid predictions that there could be a new surge in crossings by people fleeing the conflict in Sudan, Robert Jenrick said “uncontrolled illegal migration” threatened to “cannibalise” the UK’s compassion and argued that recent protests at hotels should be heeded as a warning to politicians.

In a speech at a Policy Exchange event in central London, Jenrick defended the government’s illegal migration bill, which will be debated by MPs on Wednesday.

“Excessive uncontrolled migration threatens to cannibalise the compassion that marks out the British people,” Jenrick said. “And those crossing tend to have completely different lifestyles and values to those in the UK and tend to settle in already hyper-diverse areas, undermining the cultural cohesiveness that binds diverse groups together and makes our proud multi-ethnic democracy so successful.

“Conservatives believe that elected governments should carefully control the pace of change, not least because a shared national identity bound by shared memories traditions and values is a prerequisite to generosity in society. There is an extensive body of research that demonstrates the damaging effects on social trust and cohesion on uncontrolled migration.”

He said housing people seeking refuge in hotels could result in destabilising local communities, and said politicians should take heed of protests in Knowsley, widely reported to have been fuelled by far-right activity.

“I firmly believe that we have to tackle that [housing migrants in hotels] or we will lose the trust and respect of the British public,” Jenrick said. “With some of the protests that we have seen in places such as Knowsley – while I would always condemn violence, I think those protests are a warning to be heeded, not a phenomenon to be managed. We need to listen to public concern and act on it.”

Asked about the government’s response to Sudan’s civil war, he said Sudanese people had been “consistently in the top 10 countries of individuals crossing the Channel in small boats” and that the conflict in the country would probably lead to an increase in those numbers.

“We should expect in time for this to lead to new challenges, whether here in the UK or elsewhere in Europe,” he said.

Jenrick said he had “opened conversations” with the United Nations high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) about the emerging crisis. Asked whether new legal routes would be available for Sudanese refugees wishing to come to the UK, he said some could come here under existing family reunification schemes.

The minister claimed “astronomical” numbers of people were crossing the Channel, and he said the bill “does not turn our back on those in genuine need”, instead presenting it as “undoubtedly the morally just thing to do”.

Enver Solomon, the chief executive of the Refugee Council, questioned Jenrick’s characterisation of refugees. “It’s important to recognise that over many years refugees have successfully settled in the UK making a vital contribution to the economy as law-abiding citizens paying their taxes and as proud Britons enriching our communities,” he said.

The Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson, Alistair Carmichael, said: “The cruelty of Conservative ministers towards some of the most vulnerable people in the world is unthinkable.

“We all know that safe and legal routes for refugees is the most effective way to stop these dangerous crossings. But the Conservatives just keep refusing to accept this.”

Mary Atkinson, the campaigns and networks manager at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said: “These comments are straight from the far right’s playbook. We are used to dog whistles and nudge-wink rhetoric from this government – but with these comments, the mask has come off.

“In contrast to Jenrick’s claims, it is this government’s ministers who have ‘completely different values and lifestyles’ from the rest of us,” she added.

Natasha Tsangarides, the director of advocacy at Freedom from Torture, said: “Certain politicians like Jenrick have stoked hostility against refugees, fomenting culture wars to divide people and distract from their failings. This is an obvious political ploy and caring people will not fall for it.

“Rather than whipping up hostility and dog-whistling to the far right, it is high time for this government to expand safe routes for refugees, address the asylum backlog, and strengthen international cooperation to reduce the push factors which drive people to make perilous journeys in search of safety.”