THE BLOG

Are We a Less Caring Country Now?

17/08/2014 19:54 BST | Updated 17/10/2014 10:59 BST

In a recent Telegraph article, about the refugees fleeing the Islamic State forces and Britain's silence on taking some refugees from the area - Fraser Nelson asked 'What kind of a country are we?'

We are seeing and hearing reports of atrocities committed by the Sunni extremists against Christian and Yazidi minorities as they advance into Iraq. Accounts of whole families shot in the face for refusing to convert to Islam - a boy who happened to be named after a Bishop cut in half. There are reports of 80 Yazidi men being massacred and women and children being kidnapped in one village after refusing to convert to Islam - evidence that people are being brutally persecuted for their ethnicity and their beliefs. Many thousands of people are fleeing their homes and villages to avoid the advancing fanatics pouring into Iraq from the north.

The issue of refugees from this conflict was recently discussed on the Jeremy Vine Radio 2 show and gave a clue as to what sort of a country we might now be. What struck me was the attitude of the several people who rang in. One caller asked why the UK was the only country taking in refugees - why was it only us, he asked? Another asked why we 'take them all?' Of course someone said we were 'full' and another said there are richer countries than us who should take them. None of these statements were challenged - I don't recall anyone calling in with a contrary view.

We are still a richer country than nearly all the other countries in the world and of course we are not the only country taking in refugees - according to UNHCR figures the UK is 15th in the world in terms of the number of refugees we have here. Pakistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Bangladesh and Yemen all have more refugees than the UK and they are much poorer countries than us. Obviously this has much to do with where the countries are situated and how close they are to conflicts which generate refugees. But Germany, France and the USA all have more refugees than the UK.

So are we full? According to some research reported on by the BBC in 2012 only around 2% of the UK is actually built on - actually has a house or another building on it or is concreted over - this includes spaces between concrete and buildings in urban areas. So by this measurement we are nowhere near full.

Of course the caller might have meant that the existing health and social services are overwhelmed or at capacity. This is almost certainly true in some areas but not all and, of course, we would have to carefully consider where in the UK we send any refugees. Even if the caller is right about the entire country being at capacity (which I doubt) - then we will still have to create more room from somewhere because according to ONS estimates our population is likely to grow by another 10 million over the next 20 years even without these few hundred extra refugees. My point is that this caller just said we were full - and that was all he needed to have said - it appears there is no need to clarify that argument these days.

Quite rightly there is a debate to be had on controlling immigration or even knowing how many people are coming to the UK - but bringing in a certain number of refugees is not about uncontrolled immigration and the two should not be confused.

Of course transporting refugees to the UK may not be the best thing for them - but in a sense that is academic - the issue is a political one or even a cultural one in the UK. As they attitude of callers suggested there are a number of people in our country who don't want more foreign people coming to the UK even if they face death and persecution.

There are a number of people in this country who will make any argument - no matter how weak - to try to stop foreign people - even those in great need, coming to the UK.

The government, to its credit, is supplying aid to people in the war zones but Mr Cameron apparently feels that he cannot risk even talking about accepting even small numbers of refugees because of the UKIP effect and because the 2015 elections are not too far off.

So - perhaps the answer to the question of what sort of a Country we are is that we are less welcoming to those being persecuted than we were. We are less compassionate about those in most need than many other countries and in spite one of the richest countries on the planet we are more selfish and less caring than before.