Francis Foley was a spy who acted as the Passport Control Officer at the British Embassy in Berlin during the Nazi era. Our immigration policy at the time prevented people who would compete with professional workers from entering the UK. The very old, the sick and handicapped, and persons associated with the Communist Party were also barred. If you wanted to enter British-administered Palestine, you needed to prove you had £1000 available – an enormous sum of money in those days, especially for German Jews whom since 1933 the Nazi state had been plundering and driving into poverty. The British press and the political establishment opposed a more liberal approach.
Foley is thought to have issued at least 10,000 visas to Jews desperate to leave Germany. He conscientiously failed to apply the immigration rules to them, discerning their fate if they stayed. On at least one occasion he went to the Buchenwald concentration camp to hand a Palestine exit visa to an inmate in person. He drew no attention to himself, and continued his intelligence work during and after World War II, until he retired in 1949. He was not a Jew. He is honoured in Israel as one of the ‘Righteous Among the Nations’.
UK policy towards Syrian refugees is to make money available for relief in and around Syria. The government has been relatively generous, pledging £500M in aid.
But when it comes to humanitarian admissions or resettlement places for Syrian refugees, the best offer in the EU comes from Germany: 10,000, or 80% of all places offered by the EU. The remaining 27 EU states have offered 2,340 between them. We have offered none. The few who make it here will be treated in exactly the same way as any other ‘asylum seekers’. Amnesty International’s protests have fallen on deaf ears.
There is no British diplomatic mission in Syria, no latter-day Foley can help any of those facing death and destitution.