Jayne Dowle: Jungle migrants - Extend hand of welcome but scrutiny is required

IT comes to something when a Member of Parliament has to take to Twitter to speak his mind, but that's modern democracy for you. David Davies, chairman of the Commons Welsh Affairs Select Committee, has come in for huge approbation for his public comments about child refugees.

Teenagers (centre) arrive at Lunar House in Croydon, south London, from the "Jungle" camp in Calais.
Teenagers (centre) arrive at Lunar House in Croydon, south London, from the "Jungle" camp in Calais.

His inflammatory tweet about the youngsters coming to Britain from the Jungle refugee camp in Calais, and who “don’t look like children to me”, has ended up with the acerbic politician defending himself from all-comers.

I’m going to be brave and say that the MP for Monmouth has got a point. He made it well in an interview with Radio 4’s Today programme, when he said that mandatory dental checks on would-be arrivals could reassure the public that the system was not being exploited.

“If we don’t raise this question we allow ourselves to be carried along on a tide of emotion… we’re not actually going to be able to help the people who need our help, we’ll just end up quickly exhausting the well of hospitality that exists in Britain,” he added.

Those who criticise Mr Davies should look at what he is actually saying. I am the first person to offer sympathy to anyone in trouble. And I am extremely touched by the plight of any child in danger. Indeed, I had to turn off the television news the other day because I couldn’t bear to watch footage of a six-year-old girl who had sustained horrific injuries in Aleppo.

I would venture that it is because I am a compassionate person that I agree with Mr Davies. There are thousands upon thousands of genuine child refugees, displaced, orphaned and with nothing in the world except what they stand up in. It’s estimated that 85,000 children are travelling unaccompanied in Europe alone with no idea of where they will end up.

These genuine cases need our help. In Britain, as in other civilised nations, we should extend a welcome. Homes can be found for them, ideally with family members already settled in this country. However, we should not shed false tears over those who seek to take advantage of our kindness and generosity.

Young men of 16 and 17, for it is mostly young men who seek to get in under the wire, are not vulnerable children. How we establish their true age is a challenge. I’m not convinced that the proposal of dental checks is the most practical solution, but it seems the most pragmatic option until a better alternative is proposed.

Certainly, all reasonable steps should be taken to ascertain that child refugees are just that – children. For Mr Davies is right. The British are renowned for their hospitality, but it is not a bottomless well. Those who rail against his outspoken comments should look back a few short months to June and ask themselves why the vote to leave the European Union went the way it did.

In communities up and down the land, voters said that immigration was the biggest issue for them. This is not some amorphous political concept difficult to grasp. It’s real, visible and in front of people every day.

If you lived in a town where the doctors’ surgeries were full to bursting, where it was impossible to find a NHS dentist and where the queue to seek advice on your council tax bill is stretching out the door, your hospitality might already be wearing thin.

It is these practicalities which underline the comments of Mr Davies, not unmitigated cruelty. That, and cash-strapped local councils having to find £8,000 to support one individual with accommodation and other living expenses for their first year alone.

And let’s think of the refugees themselves. If we are genuinely trying to help, we should get some perspective. How can those who wish to come to Britain and integrate ever settle, work and contribute to society when there is so much prejudice? And why do you think there is so much prejudice? Sheer numbers. During the EU vote campaign, Ukip capitalised on the towns where local people said they had been “swamped” by people from other countries.

The humanitarian tears of celebrities such as Lily Allen are touching, but does she know my friend Clay, a Zimbabwean man with a wife and family? Fleeing in the wake of Robert Mugabe’s regime, he was compelled to live in Germany for 15 years before he could gain entry to Britain.

Now Clay, a university-educated architect, is in Barnsley. He can’t find work, not even labouring on a building site, because of his ethnicity. There is so much prejudice against him, a clever, personable chap who speaks perfect English (with a slight German accent).

If he can’t get a job, what future for those hundreds of young men who can’t even grasp the language? And what impact on the communities they head to? David Davies is right to speak his mind. We are lucky enough to still live in a democracy, unlike many of those who wish to seek asylum on our shores.