Even the Daily Mail was shocked. Perhaps that "even" is unwarranted. The Mail speaks for instinctive human responses, whether they are compassionate or cruel. In this case the parents of cancer patient Ashya King, who had withdrawn him from treatment in a hospital in Southampton, were imprisoned in Spain at the behest of British prosecutors, leaving the five-year old to fend for himself in a Malaga hospital. A petition to have them released rapidly garnered nearly a quarter of a million signatures, a campaign which deputy prime minister Nick Clegg was quick to support. The prime minister himself was reported to have weighed in, and police and the Crown Prosecution Service soon back-pedalled. By Tuesday night, the parents had been released and were travelling from Madrid to be reunited with their son.
Despite the bland formulation of the CPS spokesman, that "there is insufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction for any criminal offence", it is hard to avoid the conclusion that human feeling has triumphed over insentient officialdom in this case. Irrespective of the rights and wrongs of the legal arguments, nobody, from the prime minister down, thought it was a good idea for a sick five-year old to be left in a foreign hospital without access to his parents.
Nobody thought so, and yet a bunch of officials in the Home Office appear to consider that it is a good idea for a 44 year old Wadih Chourey, who suffers from Down's Syndrome and is reported to be dependent upon the care of his brothers, to be deported to Lebanon, despite his family having lived peaceably in Britain for the past 17 years. It will be interesting to see whether local MP Vince Cable, who has intervened in the case, proves as influential on this occasion as did his senior government colleagues in the case of little Ashya.
Similarly, an individual identified only by the poetic moniker "Entry Clearance Officer 5" was the decision-maker who refused admission to the UK to the Jamaican sister of Oliver Cameron, the purpose of whose proposed visit was to donate a kidney to her brother after his own had failed. The report in The Independent noted that consideration had been given to the “compassionate aspects” of her case, which, if nothing else, provides a helpful yardstick to what is meant by "compassion" in official circles. This case also aroused significant popular protest, and the refusal was eventually overturned.
In all three of these cases, local residents have campaigned for a compassionate response, reminding us that whatever generalised negativity people may feel towards immigrants, asylum-seekers or people who appear to act against the interests of their children, the specific reaction of people who know the human beings in a case is almost invariably supportive. Most people, faced with a real situation involving real people, know what to do for the best. They do not need to be told.
All the more surprising, therefore, that government officials, who are supposed to know the real circumstances in every case, repeatedly make inhumane decisions. It is as if officialdom has become so obsessed with objectivity that it has determined that all considerations of human feeling are to be rigorously excluded from decision-making. In so reasoning it is forgetting that the human circumstances of each case are a central part of objective reality. Human beings are, objectively, emotional, sentient and vulnerable to distress, and to arbitrate upon their destinies without placing these characteristics at the centre of the decision-making process is inhumane by definition.
If a family has been settled in Britain for a number of years, if the children have grown up here and go the school here and have no real concept of a home elsewhere, the question of how they got here, is objectively, completely irrelevant. It might have been relevant once, but it is not any more. The objective circumstances are those that prevail at present; objectively, it would be inhumane to force such a family to break all their connections and return to another country, which they no longer call home.
That conclusion may be awkward for politicians beating the immigration drum, but they had better get used to it. Social media has made every local story a national concern, and unlike generalised prejudice such stories have a lasting impact. It is reasonable to expect that public policy be guided by the needs that arise from real human circumstances, and even politicians seem surprised, as the events of the last few days seem to indicate, when this does not happen.
That the two most senior politicians in the land have been so quick to condemn an unfeeling officialdom in Ashya's case could be an eureka moment, when the light dawns. But if you're a Down's Syndrome sufferer fighting deportation from your home of 17 years, don't count on it.