The drowning of a family of five in the Channel and a fire on a ship off the coast of Senegal should prompt action – ‘thoughts and prayers’ are not enough

“We don’t see migration as a problem at all: we see people dying at sea as a problem and the existence of the mafias as a problem.” Such was the view expressed last week by Hana Jalloul, secretary of state for migration in Spain. Days earlier, more than 140 people had died off the coast of Senegal, after their ship caught fire and capsized, in the deadliest shipwreck recorded this year. Ms Jalloul spoke of efforts to support the regional government of the Canary Islands, which is struggling to cope with the number of arrivals, and stressed her determination to combat organised crime. She also pointed to migrants’ crucial role in Spanish life, including as care workers during the pandemic.

British politicians could profit from studying her example in the aftermath of the drowning of a family of four Kurdish Iranians in the Channel. (A fifth member of the same family, aged 15 months, is missing and presumed dead.) Reports of the deaths of Rasul Iran Nezhad, Shiva Mohammad Panahi and their children drew forth platitudes from the home secretary, Priti Patel, about “thoughts and prayers”. But nothing said by her or Boris Johnson did anything to dispel the impression that their attitude to people trying to reach the UK to seek asylum is chiefly antagonistic. While Ms Patel repeated her opposition to “callous criminals exploiting vulnerable people”, there was no serious attempt to sympathise with the migrants’ desperation – or acknowledge that their reliance on smugglers is a matter not of accident but of political choice.

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