Let’s appeal to lovers of a big- hearted Britain and win the immigration argument.
 


I felt compelled to put into words my thoughts on the situation in Calais following David Cameron’s intervention, describing those seeking refuge in the United Kingdom, as ‘swarming’ over the border.

To invoke the language of the BNP, UKIP, the National Front, and the English Defence League is irresponsible and inflammatory. Similar language was used by the Daily Mail in the 1930s when describing Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution.

My family are refugees; my grandparents and their three young daughters were forced to flee their homes following the invasion of Cyprus in 1974. This issue is therefore very close to my heart. The UK gave refuge to my family in the 1970s, and for this they will be eternally grateful. They became part of London’s mosaic society. As with many other immigrants at the time, they were welcomed by both the government and society. Immigrants were seen as beneficial to the country, they brought with them skills, and a willingness to work long hard hours to better their lives. They saw the UK as a safe haven, and respected the native population. At the time the British people, by and large welcomed them, and accepted that immigrants were good for both society and the economy.

A mere few decades on, the attitudes of many have shifted drastically. It is depressingly common in 2015 to hear so many negatives associated with immigration with the benefits being forgotten. Why has society changed so much in such a short time?

Seeing innocent people who want nothing more than to seek sanctuary, who have gone through such unthinkable lengths to get here, being vilified by mainstream politicians and by the media is utterly heartbreaking. 
 
The narrative on this crisis has consistently sought to blame the refugees, instead of highlighting the reasons why they are fleeing their homelands. Over 180,000 people from across North Africa and the Middle East have already made the dangerous and deadly journey into Europe. In any other instance this would have been labelled what it truly is; a humanitarian crisis. Many millions more are displaced throughout the Maghreb region and in the countries surrounding Syria. Since the Syrian civil war began an estimated over 3 million people have fled their homes and sought sanctuary in neighbouring Turkey, or attempted to enter Europe. That number is just under half the population of London.
In the past British governments have rightly stood up for those threatened by man- made calamity. Yet this government seems unwilling to use its capabilities to solve the problem.

It could be argued that the current crisis is a direct result of our past foreign policy mistakes. It is therefore our moral duty to do our utmost to help. Our European neighbours to date have taken in more refugees than we have. Britain has always sought to be a leader on the world stage. It’s time for our government must do the right thing and provide asylum to those seeking it. 
 
Our party has always been the compassionate voice in the immigration debate. We urgently need to shift the narrative to highlight the many positive aspects of helping those.

I believe that if more people were willing to imagine what it’s like to be without a state, they might begin to understand why these people are risking their lives to enter Europe. We should take the fight to those in the big two parties who demanded the immigration centre at Calais closed and whose only response to an increase in desperate people is a bid to turn Britain into a fortress.
We must be confident in going out into our communities, and take our unashamedly pro- immigration message with us. In order to win hearts and minds on this issue, we must to listen to people’s concerns, and gently challenge them. Less than 8,000 people had asylum claims accepted last year and when countries such as Somalia stabilise, the numbers coming fall sharply. Refugees are clearly not to blame for the housing crisis.

One of my favourite quotes, from the great Ghandi, reads:

A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.

I would modify it and say that; the UK’s greatness can be measured by how we treat those seeking refuge on our island. This is a humanitarian crisis, and Great Britain should live up to her name and do great things to solve it.

* Anton Georgiou is a Liberal Democrat member in Brent

Read more by or more about , , or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.
Advert

28 Comments

  • I’m concerned there is too much emotion in this, there is a place for that in making the case for a sensible pan-european approach but there also needs to be the clinical logical argument for this. Too often the emotional argument has been used to denounce other people as racists (say comparing them to the BNP, EDL, NF, etc.), there are a large number of peoepl who have concerns and are closed to hearing emotional arguments about immigration as they know at some point they will feel attacked.

    Added to that there is the immediate crisis of these who are here, but there is also the issue of some of the problems at origin and these need to be discussed seriously too.

    If you make an emotional case about someone who is already at the boarder most people wound take you seriously and won’t be listening.

  • The issue is hugely complex and, as Psi says, tends to evoke emotional responses when clear heads are needed.

    One of the complexities is that those at Calais are not uniformly refugees who’ve fled danger and pitched up at their first port of call. That tempers people’s response, mixing as it does compassion for desperate people with anger that they are seeking to circumvent legal immigration controls.

    Ultimately there will need to be three parallel fixes:

    – a co-ordinated approach to offering asylum
    – quick and efficient processing of applications to establish who are genuine refugees and who aren’t
    – quick and efficient processes to return those who aren’t refugees or accepted for legal immigration back to their countries of origin
    – co-ordinated action to tackle the root cause of the problem in the countries of origin

  • Sadie Smith 5th Aug '15 - 11:27am

    People who know that their family only continued because of some support are entitled to feel emotion, I think. In fact they are usually very restrained.
    In this country most of us are proud that help was given. But I think it has usually been necessary to include an appeal to emotion in order to turn meaning well into action. That is just one strand needed to back up factual arguments.

  • Eddie Sammon 5th Aug '15 - 11:42am

    You are right to use the words “gently challenge” when it comes to attitudes towards immigration. The public will switch off immediately if they feel attacked, as PSI suggests.

    We need to be helping Italy. Matteo Renzi politely wrote in the Guardian to us and Cameron seems to have largely ignored him. One day we might need Italy’s help.

    We also need to be helping France, but a lot of these refugees enter France through Italy, due to Schengen (but France pulling out of Schengen, as the Front National want to do, would just create a new Calais on the Franco-Italian border).

    I don’t agree with running a big pro immigration campaign, but more help can be offered – not just sending dogs and fences as Cameron seems to have prioritised.

  • Scott Thomson 5th Aug '15 - 11:59am

    The refugees are already in France though (a safe country). The sensible way to deal with refugees heading to Europe if through the EU and for each member state to take a fair share in and to settle them there. That way, the public would likely support taking in refugees. If we care about refugees fleeing danger and we want to do good then we should be in favour of a realistic and manageable policy on the matter. I find the idea that we should favour refugees illegally trying to enter our country ahead of refugees who go through the proper legal system as a disgrace. I also believe that they will be relatively safe in France in the short term and that the fairest way of dealing with the issue is for them all to be vetted and settled into various European countries. If we choose not to promote a sensible policy on this matter and instead complain about the language the PM uses to describe the refugees then I fear we will be seen as irrelevant and completely out of touch with the public.

  • @Scott Thompson ” I find the idea that we should favour refugees illegally trying to enter our country ahead of refugees who go through the proper legal system as a disgrace. I also believe that they will be relatively safe in France in the short term and that the fairest way of dealing with the issue is for them all to be vetted and settled into various European countries. If we choose not to promote a sensible policy on this matter and instead complain about the language the PM uses to describe the refugees then I fear we will be seen as irrelevant and completely out of touch with the public.”

    +1

  • If these migrants are simply and solely seeking safety from conflict and persecution, why do they not claim asylum in the first safe country they reach? Why do they destroy their documents? Why avoid fingerprinting or temporarily obliterate their fingerprints to evade tracking? All these actions give their desire to enter the UK in particular the appearance, to the UK public, less of desperation and rather more of a lifestyle choice.

    A sensible debate about a “fair share” (whatever that may mean) will be impossible while the migrants are using force, subterfuge and weapons to illegally seek entry in this country in a way that disrupts significantly their potential hosts’ lives and where it is – deliberately or otherwise – almost impossible to distinguish the deserving from the bogus.
    It takes two sides to abide by international agreements.

  • @David

    The vast majority of migrant entering France either pass through it to another country other than the UK or they try to stay in France. Only a small percentage head to Calais. They do so because they think they have a better chance of rebuilding their lives in the UK as they may already speak some English as a second language and they may already have family/contacts here that will help them. Here’s a good article on the subject:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/07/31/calais-migrants-crisis-myths-facts_n_7910350.html

    “Why do they destroy their documents?”

    Do they? Who says so?

    “Why avoid fingerprinting or temporarily obliterate their fingerprints to evade tracking?”

    Why on earth would they bother doing that when border officials don’t take fingerprints because our government thinks it’s too much effort? –

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/10230099/Fingerprinting-illegal-immigrants-takes-too-long-says-minister.html

    And that sums up the situation nicely. Our government, and the French government, can’t be bothered devoting resources to processing the claims of migrants properly.

  • Matthew Huntbach 5th Aug '15 - 12:55pm

    Anton Georgiou

    At the time the British people, by and large welcomed them, and accepted that immigrants were good for both society and the economy.

    A mere few decades on, the attitudes of many have shifted drastically.

    No, opinions then were much the same as now. I don’t think there’s been a big shift, if anything I think there’s much more acceptance of a multi-cultural society now than there was then.

    However, people can see the plight of those who want to come here and still be concerned about how we can deal with it when there are large numbers of them. I remember in the past that we were often told that the latest large group of immigrants was just another piece of settling the old British Empire, and once that was done, it wouldn’t continue. But those who were told that were lied to, I am sorry to say.

    Where I work was once the heart of Cockney London, with its own very distinct culture. It stayed largely white when other areas did not, but for various reasons became the heartland of the Bangladeshi community. The people on the streets here now are predominantly Bangladeshi. I am not saying this is a bad thing or a good thing, it is simply a fact. When the people who identified with that Cockney culture expressed concern about its destruction they were told they were over-reacting, and dismissed as motivated by racism. Yet their culture has been destroyed. That’s a fact, and they were lied to when they were told, no, that would not happen.

    Note that prosperous middle class white cultural places have not seen such a rapid change. Suppose it were suggest that the houses people living there were expecting to inherit would be handed over to immigrants who had more need for them? What would be the reaction?

  • Matthew Huntbach 5th Aug '15 - 12:59pm

    Anton Georgiou

    In the past British governments have rightly stood up for those threatened by man- made calamity. Yet this government seems unwilling to use its capabilities to solve the problem.

    Well, didn’t we try dealing with the man-made calamity of a cruel dictator in Iraq by invading the place and deposing him? How did that go down? From what you are saying here we should invade and depose the dictators in Eritrea, South Sudan and so on, from whom so many refugees are fleeing.

  • Matthew Huntbach 5th Aug '15 - 1:06pm

    Anton Georgiou

    Since the Syrian civil war began an estimated over 3 million people have fled their homes and sought sanctuary in neighbouring Turkey, or attempted to enter Europe.

    Indeed, and that’s the real problem. There are many more millions of people in horrendous situations in other parts of the world. By the arguments you are using, we should have an open door to them. Why should it be open to just those who have done what it requires to have reached Calais? Aren’t those who didn’t do that and so are still suffering back where they came from just as entitled to come here to end that suffering? Why not?

    Yet clearly we can’t do this, even if we wanted to. To me, that’s the dilemma. There isn’t an easy answer. I look at those who have risked their lives to get here, and of course I feel sympathy for them and understand why they did it. Yet if I say to them “As you have risked your life, please come in and live here”, I’m sending a message out to those millions more that they too should risk their lives in the hope of getting the same.

  • @Steve

    There seems to be quite a wide consensus that those who are least likely to qualify for asylum do destroy documents, as with no identifiable home state or history, it’s darned difficult to know whether they should be admitted or deported and, if deported, to where . Thus prolonging their stay in the new host country and their chance of ‘disappearing’ if they wish to. Of course, there may be many other reasons for having no documents of any sort – as their mobiles seem somehow less easy to lose, perhaps they might usefully scan/photo their documents on to these devices before they can get mislaid?. As to the fingerprinting, if they are fingerprinted on their arrival in the EU, then they can be checked if they report to claim asylum in any third country and returned to the entry port’s nation. But only if their prints are on file.

  • Mattehew Huntbach. Agree with your last point exactly: we are in danger of creating an awful ‘Jeux Avec Frontieres” where (only) the lucky and/or the rich who get to Calais qualify. And if it were known that to get to Calais was an automatic pass into Britain? Odious (and impossible) to discriminate; unthinkable to admit all. I really cannot see a sustainable way forward.

  • @David
    “As to the fingerprinting, if they are fingerprinted on their arrival in the EU, then they can be checked if they report to claim asylum in any third country and returned to the entry port’s nation. But only if their prints are on file.”

    You seem to have misunderstood me. I was pointing out how your unsubstantiated claim about people in Calais removing their fingerprints makes no sense given that fingerprints don’t seem to be taken by anyone.

    “There seems to be quite a wide consensus ”

    Isn’t that something you’ve just made up?

    “as their mobiles seem somehow less easy to lose, ”

    Have you done a survey of the number of people in Calais carrying phones versus the number carrying documents? Forgive me if I think you’re making that up as well.

  • @Steve

    “In an attempt to avoid deportation if caught, they destroyed their own passports. Now they face the dilemma of wishing to return home but not having the documents to prove their countries of origin.”
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/immigration/9270897/Please-deport-me-theres-no-work-in-Britain-illegal-immigrant-begs-judge.html

    “But like many illegal immigrants, they are stuck in a bureaucratic no man’s land. Their traffickers instructed them to destroy their identity papers to make deportation difficult.”
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-17183171

    “…all of them destroyed their passports under orders from their traffickers, or they simply lost them from so many nights sleeping rough.”
    http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2014/06/uk-dream-ending-undocumented-migrants-201463121350355582.html

    section of the …Asylum and Immigration Act…was designed to curb the activities of people smugglers who urge asylum seekers to destroy their documents so they cannot be deported.
    http://www.theguardian.com/society/2005/mar/18/asylum.politics

    “The Jules Ferry centre, open for a few hours each afternoon, allows access to…electricity points to recharge phones…”
    http://www.theguardian.com/world/gallery/2015/apr/06/life-in-calais-migrant-slum-jules-ferry-in-pictures-christian-sinibaldi

    Regards.

  • @Stteve

    Last one, I promise.

    “It takes about two hours to burn off your fingerprints. You find a piece of metal pipe, stick it in the fire until the end goes red hot, then rub the tips of your fingers quickly but firmly along the glowing end – and repeat. Such is the body’s ability to repair itself, the damage only lasts a few days; but long enough to make it impossible for border police to enter your details into Eurodac, the European Union’s fingerprint database for asylum seekers. This technique, described to me recently by a Sudanese refugee who spent five months living rough in Calais last year, was an attempt to dodge the EU’s Dublin regulation, which insists that refugees claim asylum in the first member state they set foot in.”

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/31/europe-migrant-crisis-political-choice-toxic-waste-sanctuary

    “If they are not caught by police but want to claim asylum rather than disappear into the UK they need to present themselves to the authorities. Those who are caught are at first arrested on immigration offences. At the same time an application for those seeking asylum is made by immigration officers who submit it on their behalf. Biometric fingerprints of the asylum seekers are taken by Home Office officials, which allows the government to keep a record of them.”

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-33729417

  • @Matthew Huntbach “Yet clearly we can’t do this, even if we wanted to. To me, that’s the dilemma. There isn’t an easy answer. I look at those who have risked their lives to get here, and of course I feel sympathy for them and understand why they did it. Yet if I say to them “As you have risked your life, please come in and live here”, I’m sending a message out to those millions more that they too should risk their lives in the hope of getting the same.”

    Agreed.

    I’d like to see Tim Farron address this specific point.

  • @David perhaps they should move to retinal scans.

  • Matthew Huntbach

    “Where I work was once the heart of Cockney London, with its own very distinct culture. It stayed largely white when other areas did not, but for various reasons became the heartland of the Bangladeshi community. The people on the streets here now are predominantly Bangladeshi. I am not saying this is a bad thing or a good thing, it is simply a fact. When the people who identified with that Cockney culture expressed concern about its destruction they were told they were over-reacting, and dismissed as motivated by racism. Yet their culture has been destroyed.”

    I have heard people from Essex complain about the displacement of those from East London (along with city workers moving out that way) destroying the culture of what was once “rural Essex” and is now “London-Essex” changing the nature of that area as well, it feeds through, though it is worth noting that this is not particularly a bad thing (more interesting services, a wider variety of people nearby) but is more of a problem where there is no interest in understanding what the local character was, to the point where the ‘TOWIE’ image is what is associated with that area.

  • Richard Underhill 5th Aug '15 - 4:46pm

    If you want to persuade David Cameron try reminding him that his predecessor Ted Heath summoned a meeting of the Shadow Cabinet and dismissed Enoch Powell in 1969 after the “Birmingham Speech”.
    As Prime Minister in 1972 Ted Heath accepted Ugandan Asians expelled by Idi Amin, saying “It was the right thing to do”
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expulsion_of_Asians_from_Uganda.

  • Sadly this article is as unhelpful as every other article on immigration I’ve seen on LDV, because it persists with the fantasy that people in Britain are either pro- or anti-immigration, with most in the latter category.

    In fact the vast majority of people in Britain are ambivalent – they can see the benefits of immigration and want it to continue, but within limits and under some sort of controls. Even many UKIP and Lib Dem members fall within this category. Clearly there are differences in terms of numbers etc. but no great difference in principle.

    We’ll never get anywhere discussing this until people acknowledge this basic reality and stop painting this as a simple pro- or anti- choice.

  • Richard Underhill 5th Aug '15 - 6:28pm

    Stuart 5th Aug ’15 – 6:20pm
    The pressure on housing in London and the southeast is also affected by migration within the UK.

  • Many refugees are unable to obtain travel documents.The Palestinians in Gaza don’t have passports. Some people in Syria are unable to travel in their country to obtain documents. In fact few genuine asylum can reach Britain anymore so these desperate people have little option but to fall into the hands of traffickers.
    The migrants in Calais complain they are badly treated by the French authories, that’s why they don’t want to stay there.(How many English people learned to speak French at school?) Those that don’t qualify as refugees (the definition is narrow) can be helped as jobs could be found for them in third countries.

  • genuine aslum seekers

  • Zack Polanski 6th Aug '15 - 9:49am

    ‘@Matthew Huntbach “Yet clearly we can’t do this, even if we wanted to. To me, that’s the dilemma. There isn’t an easy answer. I look at those who have risked their lives to get here, and of course I feel sympathy for them and understand why they did it. Yet if I say to them “As you have risked your life, please come in and live here”, I’m sending a message out to those millions more that they too should risk their lives in the hope of getting the same.”’

    TCO – ‘Agreed.

    I’d like to see Tim Farron address this specific point.’

    I think he has. It’s about not accepting the false dichotomy that it’s either unsafe for people to get away or they have to say. We need to find safe ways for migrants to be processed and then look at ways of defining something like a quota system in the EU so everyone is taking their fair share.

    It requires international action – we can’t do this on our own or we’re presented with the dilemma you present again.

  • This article is understandable for its sympathy towards migrants but the comments make clear that there is supposed to be a clear policy on immigration. Clear not only to those who live in Britain but also to others who would like to live here – whether they are asylum seekers or economic migrants.

    But there is another series of questions to ask. First, who is running UK right now? Who is on top of Foreign policy statements made around the world? Who is keeping a balanced control on various aspects of immigration? – divided as it is between the Foreign Office and the Home Office. And are those two Secretaries [Foreign and Home] losing sight of a unified policy which Britain needs to make clear? The PM is on holiday, having spent time adding to fences at Calais but done little or nothing to process the migrants who are reaching the Eurotunnel and an isolated border force in France. And the PM has certainly done little, in advance, to make Britain’s policies clear to migrants before they left their homelands. It is not only migrants who are confused – the world is confused by British Foreign policy – which seems to be driven by changes at the Home Office and a fear of UKIP, neither of which factors are known to migrants.

    Foreign Policy takes years to gel into a recognised and respected agreement between nations and people. It needs the World Service of the BBC to spread its message – a service hit by ‘savings’. Foreign policy cannot be made on the whims of the Home Office nor by tinkering with the BBC. The situation at Calais is the outcome of the paucity of clear long-term policies made by this government.

  • Matthew Huntbach 6th Aug '15 - 1:07pm

    Psi

    I have heard people from Essex complain about the displacement of those from East London (along with city workers moving out that way) destroying the culture of what was once “rural Essex” and is now “London-Essex” changing the nature of that area as well

    Oh sure. As I’ve said many times, I was brought up in working class part of the Brighton conurbation. Do I need to say more?

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

*
*
Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?

Advert



Recent Comments

  • User AvatarBarry Lofty 4th Jul - 10:46am
    Yes I can only endorse John Marriotts' comments on "Geoffreys" post. It makes me angry and rather sad that such thoughts and beliefs exist in...
  • User AvatarDavid Raw 4th Jul - 10:46am
    @ Neil Sandison "Interesting to note many of those around that cabinet table are no longer active in current politics .They have moved on so...
  • User Avatarneil sandison 4th Jul - 10:31am
    Interesting to note many of those around that cabinet table are no longer active in current politics .They have moved on so should we ....
  • User AvatarDavid Raw 4th Jul - 10:22am
    Well said, John. You've highlighted the worst sort of cold blinkered utilitarian Benthamite heartless Darwinian stuff that marred the mid 19th century Liberal Party....... and...
  • User AvatarRichard Easter 4th Jul - 9:59am
    Sorry should read "I believe that employment is the best route out of poverty"
  • User AvatarRichard Easter 4th Jul - 9:57am
    The left, like the centre and the right are all a mixture of spectrums and different beliefs and all have their own extremism in different...