Imagine two entirely fictitious scenarios. In the first scenario an ambulance arrives at a hospital. The patient, who has been seriously injured in a road accident, is rushed off for surgery.

In the second scenario, everything is exactly the same, except for one thing. The patient arrives via a stolen car. Instead of whisking the injured man off to the operating theatre, staff have been told that because he arrived “illegally” they must tend to him differently. The nurses slap a few bandages on and hope for the best.

Now, to anyone of sound mind and logic such a concept is utterly preposterous, indeed inhumane. Both patients needed the same help, regardless of whether they arrived in an ambulance, stolen car, or spaceship for that matter.

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But this “idea” of determining how much someone needs help simply by the way they arrived at a place makes perfect sense if your name is Priti Sushil Patel.

Last week, the Home Secretary in her rabid determination to “tackle illegal migration head-on” and gratify legions of Brexit voters unveiled plans to create a two-tier asylum system that treats those who come to the UK illegally “differently” from those who enter via legal routes.

In short, she plans to make asylum claims from “undeserving” people who travel through “safe” countries inadmissible, while offering the chance of a safe haven to “deserving” people who come through legal routes such as resettlement schemes. In many instances “undeserving” refugees, who are fleeing life-threatening situations, will have had no choice but to pay people smugglers. 

For Patel their plight doesn’t matter. The individual merits of each case are irrelevant. They are automatically branded “illegals”, and in her quest to break the smugglers will try to send the refugees back to safe countries they passed through. The problem is if those countries refuse to take them, then there’s a real risk such refugees forever stripped of all hope of citizenship and ability to work will fall into destitution.

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It also doesn’t matter to Patel that this breaches the 1951 Refugee Convention, where states should not penalise refugees for illegally entering a nation. Instead, the logic-defying Cabinet minister went on to declare EU countries have a “moral duty” to take back failed asylum seekers. Let’s put it in context. Germany has a refugee count of roughly one million, the UK about 130,000. It doesn’t take a genius to work out where the “moral duty” lies.

For Enver Solomon, of the Refugee Council, if the asylum system is broken the answer lies in expanding safe routes so that refugees don’t need to resort to criminal gangs, which makes sense. The answer does not lie in washing your hands of a group of people simply because they happened to arrive in a dinghy.

As we see harrowing pictures of families arriving on our shores, be grateful you were born in Britain and not Yemen. Who knows, some of those arriving could one day join many other former refugees in the NHS who helped the fight against Covid. Think about that Priti.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.