Back in 1974, when I was visiting Israel, we managed to get to Gaza City, and then even drove around a refugee camp nearby (and yes, it wasn’t the safest thing to do).
It was really interesting to me to see what a “refugee camp” might actually look like. I was sort of surprised to find it looked quite permanent, and had electricity, and I could see TVs in the houses. (There were was no colour TV in Israel at the time.)
The main thought, however, was “Why is this a camp, and not a town?”, since it has been there for 26 years.
I had similar thoughts about Sabra and Shatila in 1982.
In the case of the Gaza camp, I worked out that it was likely that the camp had benefited from the 1967 war. Up until that time, it had been under Egyptian control, and apparently had few facilities. More recently, Israel had found it politically useful that the conditions should be better than they had been, providing water and power.
And so the living conditions of the thousands of people had simply changed.
The underlying reason for the earlier poor facilities, and that people were not permitted to move out, I think, was that all the Arab leaderships needed to have the displaced people obviously there, and in poor conditions – if they actually allowed them to have proper lives, then the argument that they should challenge Israel would dribble away, along with a little of the anger.
There is also the issue that if they allowed the displaced people to be citizens or at least have sensible status, then it would change the political make-up of the host country, but there are other things that could be done, I think.
And with sensible status comes the opportunity to be more economically active, reducing the cost to the host country:- a win-win.
So now, what about the UK?
Why have we got 117,000 asylum applications awaiting an initial decision in the UK, comprising around 143,000 people?
Primarily because it is politically expedient for the ruling party.
And like the inhabitants of Gaza camp and Sabra and Shatila, these people are suffering in much worse conditions that they might otherwise have, to serve the political agenda.
I think the government knows that pretty much the only thing it can talk about that will benefit it is migration. So it is in its interests to have a backlog they can point at, costing large headline figures for accommodation, and needing to discuss where they might be accommodated in UK settlements.
What we should be talking about is the utter incompetence that they have presided over such a backlog of people in an awful situation.
But if there had been an efficient Home Office immigration assessment system for the last 5-10 years, dealing effectively and in a timely manner with applications, a huge part of what the government talks about what disappear. And the human and national cost would go with it, as the migrants could be economically active, reducing the huge cost to the government.