It is only eight weeks since an 18-year old Iraqi-born man walked onto the London Underground and left a bomb on the District line. Fortunately for the rush-hour commuters and school children on that train, the detonating device went off without managing to set off the bomb itself. Had the device worked, the many passengers who suffered life-changing burns would instead have been among many other people taken away in body bags. Ahmed Hassan came to the UK illegally in 2015 and was subsequently provided with foster care by the British government. He has now been charged, and is awaiting trial, for causing an explosion and attempted murder.
London police outside Parsons Green Underground station, following the terrorist bombing there on September 15, 2017. (Image source: Edwardx/Wikimedia Commons)
As stories like that of Mr. Hassan emerge, there are varying reactions. Some people say that this act is not indicative of anything, and that we must accept that such things happen -- like the weather. Others suggest that anyone might leave a bomb on the District line in the morning, and that there is no more reason to alter your border policy because of it than there is to alter your meteorological policy because of it.
As poll after poll shows, however, the majority of the public in Britain -- as in every other European country -- think something else. They think that a country that has lost a grip on its immigration policy is very likely to lose control of its security policy, and that one may indeed follow the other.
So the British public were not at all reassured by the news this month that the country's Home Office has lost track of tens of thousands of foreign nationals who were due to be removed from the country. Nor that there is no evidence of any effort to find the people in question.
Figures revealed in two new reviews by the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration showed that nearly 56,000 foreign nationals have disappeared from the radar of the British authorities after being told that they were required to leave the country. This figure includes over 700 foreign national offenders (FNOs) who went missing after being released into the community from prison. It also revealed that around 80,000 foreign nationals are required to check in on a regular basis at police stations and immigration centres while authorities prepare for them to leave the country. By the end of 2016, just under 56,000 of them had failed to keep appointments and had become persons "whose whereabouts are unknown and all mandatory procedures to re-establish contact with the migrant have failed."
Nevertheless, with a straight face, Brandon Lewis, the immigration minister for the present Conservative government, declared that "People who have no right to live in this country should be in no doubt of our determination to remove them." Yet he still admitted that "Elements of these reports make for difficult reading."
For the British public, they will also make difficult living. We all have to live with the consequences of an immigration system which has been more than usually unfit for purpose since the Labour government of 1997. It is just the British version of a story that is playing all across Western Europe. Across the Western half of the continent, all governments have allowed immigration policy to slide for more than a generation. Having become lax about policing the borders, they have become lax about returning people who have no right to be inside those borders. And having become lax about returning people who should not be in the country, they end up putting at peril the citizens of the country.
When the post-1997 Labour government first decided that the return of people in the UK illegally was not an important priority, they did so in part because the then-immigration minister decided that it was too traumatic for everyone involved: traumatic for the illegal migrant and for the UK border officials who had to remove them. In just such a way, by thousands of small cuts, does a nation's territorial integrity and future security become shattered.
Although a person's name may be nothing more than an inauspicious start -- its owner, after all, did not choose it -- even the craziest immigration systems dreamed up by European officials have not yet come up with something like America's "diversity visa" lottery, by which someone pronounces themselves to be called "Sword of Allah" [terrorist Sayfullo Saipov] and is promptly let into the country -- only then to mow people down in a New York bicycle lane. But we are all suffering from variants of the same mania.
Nevertheless, even the most seriously ingrained manias can be snapped out of. In Britain, as in the rest of Western Europe and North America, there is only thought to be a political price to pay for being tough on immigration. For the time being, only people who believe in enforcing the law look heartless. Only those who insist on following -- or even tightening -- due process look like the ones who have done a wicked thing.
But as the events on the Underground in London in September presage, all of this can change in a few instants. A few more bombs left by a few more illegal immigrants, or a few more trucks driven along a few more bicycle lanes -- let alone by illegal immigrants who have overstayed and not been deported -- and the whole thing can change. At that point, instead of looking warm and big-hearted, you begin to look as if you were just unforgivably lax with the security of your own citizens. So an entire political class has been. But it may take a lot of bloodshed yet for them to learn that there are not just political benefits to be accrued from such laxness, but one day a political price to pay.
Douglas Murray, British author, commentator and public affairs analyst, is based in London, England. His latest book, an international best-seller, is "The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam."