Once before, Britain along with other European countries failed to address the asylum needs of a people fleeing persecution, branding many of them as economic migrants. Those people ended up in camps: Bergen-Belsen, Dachau and Auschwitz.
A collective amnesia seems to have developed about the millions of European refugees fleeing the ravages of war-torn Europe in 1945: stateless, homeless, starving and freezing in the winters of 1945 and 46. We seem to have forgotten that Britain too faced starvation and a chronic shortage of essential resources for survival as did the rest of Europe at the end of World War 2.
The people of Europe were saved because governments accepted the moral responsibility for all peoples, allies and ex-enemies alike. We acted together empowered by the generosity of the United States of America via the Marshall Plan.
Europe now has another moral crisis as people flee from war, tyranny and economic misery in the Middle East and North Africa.
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, is right when she says, “If Europe fails on the question of refugees, its close connection with universal civil rights will be destroyed.”
We need political vision and bravery. It is time to support Merkel's call for a common European asylum policy with an immediate collective response to ease the misery of refugees fleeing to Europe, including a fairer distribution of asylum seekers and coordinated reprisals against people smugglers.
We need to address the political injustices across North Africa and the Middle East for which we carry much historic responsibility: Palestine, Iraq and Syria to name but three.
(Ian Jones is a former Cultural Studies lecturer at Teesside University, retired Headteacher in an MOD school and current Chair of the North East Liberal Democrats. Middlesbrough and East Cleveland local party. Views expressed here are his own).