Lord Dubs has slammed extreme right-wing parties that ‘exploit’ refugees in an exclusive interview with The London Economic.
The Labour peer warned asylum seekers had become a “political football”, with far-right parties in continental Europe achieving electoral success off the back of the refugee crisis.
It comes as the former MP for Battersea South condemned Suella Braverman over her use of “poisonous” rhetoric towards migrants and refugees, most recently during the Tory Party conference.
The home secretary said there was a “surge” of “millions” of migrants around the world trying to enter the UK in a speech that sparked condemnation from those within her own party.
“The wind of change that carried my own parents across the globe in the 20th century was a mere gust compared to the hurricane that is coming,” Braverman told delegates.
In a bid to rally the party faithful, the address was branded “deeply divisive” by shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper, while Amnesty International described it as motivated by “cynicism and xenophobia.”
Dubs said he recognised that far-right parties are now legitimate contenders in both national and European politics, adding that cooperation between countries is vital to address mounting global displacement.
“There are some extreme right-wing political parties in continental European countries who are exploiting the issue, and we’ve seen the’ve had some electoral success,” he said.
“Angela Merkel was defeated partly on the issue of her generosity to asylum seekers. We’ve seen the right wing in France doing well. We’ve seen it in Italy. Hungary was always like that. We’ve seen it in Slovakia, seen it in Austria.
“I think there’s a real danger of that, which is why I emphasise how important it is we must keep public opinion on our side, because that’s the best safeguard against that sort of extremism.
“It is a dangerous phenomenon, and I think we’re not going to deal sensibly with the pressures to give safety to asylum seekers and refugees unless we cooperate with other countries – and I’m afraid that will be more difficult if there are these extreme right-wing parties.”
Research published by the Pew Research Centre last year revealed populist parties, especially those on the right, had increased their vote share in recent parliamentary elections, with migration no doubt a motivating factor.
In Italy, the right-wing Brothers of Italy party secured the highest vote share of any party in the nation’s election, while in the Netherlands, right-leaning parties received 16 per cent of the vote in 2021 – the highest in more than a decade.
In Germany, the country’s far-right AfD won its first district council election after increasing from 10 per cent to 20 per cent in the last year, ahead of the centre-left SPD.
Dubs, who as a young Jewish boy left Czechoslovakia with his family in 1939, warned that in addition to the rise of right-wing parties, developing strategies for cross-border cooperation will be more difficult as a result of Brexit.
“We’ve got to develop the best possible cooperation with other European countries. The tragedy is that we’re not part of the EU, but there we are,” he said.
“And we’ve got to develop the best possible cooperation with other European nations so we can have sensibly agreed policies and shared responsibility.”
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed the UK had a net migration gain of 504,000 people between June 2021 and June 2022, nearly triple the 173,000 registered the year before.
“Poison coming from the top”
For the Labour peer, who was among 669 children saved from the Nazi regime by Sir Nicholas Winton, the government’s rhetoric poses dangerous consequences for the public’s perception of refugees.
“By having poisonous comments made by Suella Braverman – and they really are poisonous – invaders are the enemy. It really makes local people say: ‘Well if the home secretary doesn’t like these people why should we?’
“We’ve been a traditionally tolerant country, and I hope to God we stay as tolerant, and she shouldn’t be poisoning the atmosphere in that way.
“She’s the daughter of people who were given safety in this country. I don’t know why she’s doing it. She’s part of a certain mentality that says: ‘Once I’m inside, pull up a drawbridge and keep other people out,” he added.
Dubs’ comments follow a damning investigation by the anti-fascist group Hope not Hate in May, which revealed the government’s growing hostility towards migrants is actively “feeding” the far right.
Analysis of 660,000 messages sent via the encrypted message app, Telegram, between January 2021 and March 2023 revealed large spikes in anti-migrant hostility following government and ministerial announcements.
Singling out the home secretary’s inflammatory anti-migrant rhetoric, the group cited a 52 per cent rise in the use of the word “invasion” following Braverman’s claims that the south coast of England was being “invaded” last October.
In light of what he described as increasingly hostile political leadership, Dubs called on more celebrities to speak out in favour of the “decency and compassion” that have characterised the UK for so long.
The 90-year-old credited former Leicester City and Barcelona striker Gary Lineker for using his platform to support those fleeing war and persecution in their own country.
The Match of the Day presenter has been a vocal critic of the Home Office’s treatment of refugees and its dangerous rhetoric, comparing the government’s “immeasurably cruel” asylum policy to 1930s Nazi Germany.
“I just worry a bit about comparisons with Nazi Germany, I think it’s just a difficult comparison to make. But on the other, the Holocaust didn’t start with the gas chamber. It started with language. It started with nasty words and hostility,” he told The London Economic.
“I think it is people who are regarded as important figures and leaders in their own walk of life who then speak of on behalf of refugees and asylum seekers – that is a way in which we can most influence public opinion.
“So we need more Gary Linkers. I think people like Gary are doing it because they’re in a different field. But they’ve suddenly said: ‘This is another responsibility of ours’, and I think that’s the best way in which we can influence public opinion.”
Media “weaponising” refugees
While anti-migrant rhetoric is largely responsible for the growing relationship between senior Tories and the extreme right, for Dubs, media coverage plays a crucial role in the dehumanisation of asylum seekers.
More than 3,500 articles by the Daily Mail, Daily Express and the Sun on migration were analysed, with researchers establishing a significant link between press coverage and far-right engagement on Telegram.
Phrases such as “illegal migrant” or “illegal immigrant” were found in 950 pieces, with a separate 815 covering hotels for asylum seekers.
The incidence of the far right talking about hotel accommodation for refugees and asylum seekers has increased by 316.67 per cent in Telegram chats since 2021.
“I think it is rather sad that some of the media are also weaponising refugees and asylum seekers in a bid to get some cheap support in their circulation figures,” Dubs said.
“I like to feel that in a democracy the media are free to express whatever they want within limits. I believe in a free press very much. But I think I’d like to make it exercise it a bit more responsibly.
“If they spoke to some of the child refugees and what they’ve been through, I hope they’d see it differently from the way they see it based upon politicians speaking.”