She crossed the sea as a refugee, and this country took her in and gave her asylum. The British record in welcoming persecuted Jews from continental Europe is not without ambiguities. Nor did all the refugees find as ready a welcome in Britain as had been hoped. But it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. When so many of her relatives and friends perished in the death camps, my mother survived. And that was thanks to this country that saw a need and tried to respond to it. It was in the spirit of a people for whom humanitarian care has mattered.
75 years later, Europe is facing the biggest refugee crisis since the war. This time the sea that is carrying hundreds of thousands of desperate, frightened people towards its shores is the Mediterranean. Many of them are fleeing vicious perscution and untold hardship, and have paid unscrupulous middle-eastern or north African people traffickers to cram them into vessels that are not seaworthy 50 metres from the shore. It is a dangerous voyage. Only the reckless or those who have abandoned all other hope would attempt it. The Italian search and rescue operation Mare Nostrum has saved no fewer than 150,000 refugees from the sea in just one year.
But incredibly, just when cooperation across Europe is so much needed to help these hapless refugees, Britain is refusing to support it. Yesterday's Guardian reported that 'British policy was quietly spelled out in a House of Lords written answer by the new Foreign Office minister, Lady Anelay: "We do not support planned search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean," she said, adding that the government believed there was "an unintended 'pull factor' encouraging more migrants to attempt the dangerous sea crossing and thereby leading to more tragic and unnecessary deaths...The government believes the most effective way to prevent refugees and migrants attempting this dangerous crossing is to focus our attention on countries of origin and transit, as well as taking steps to fight the people smugglers who wilfully put lives at risk by packing migrants into unseaworthy boats."'