Opinion: What’s worse than a watery grave?

The news this week has been dominated by the horrendous tragedies of over 1000 deaths in the Mediterranean. With the notable exception of the vile Katie Hopkins, this tragedy has moved the hardest hearts, not least because of the number of children who have died.

For me it’s far closer to home and I confess I have spent the last couple of days fighting back the tears. I have the enormous privilege of caring for two children who made that same journey. And the danger for them didn’t begin when they climbed into a rickety boat, it began as they crossed the Sahara, in cars carrying maybe 30 passengers, many hanging on to the outside, where if one of them fell off they would be left to die in the scorching sand. Or in the insanitary, cruel and overcrowded cells of a Libyan detention centre.  And then, having reached ‘safety’ sleeping rough and eating out of bins while all around you people are dying.

As a family we have heard the horrendous stories of the children who are now part of our family, neither of them knowing where their birth families are, both very clear that they were prepared to take the risk to get here because the alternative was worse. Both now lauded by their schools for being role models for other students with their diligence, good humour and determination to succeed.

One of the problems with such mass slaughter, and yes, I regard it as slaughter, of people from countries we regard as ‘third world’ is that it dehumanises the victims.  Imagine if the same had happened to 1000+ Brits over the same timescale? There would be national mourning, Cobra meetings, we’d know the sad stories of each individual and the grieving family they left behind. Or maybe not even here, if it had been the US or Europe, or Australia, ‘people like us’.

Every individual, every family who lost their lives last week had a story to tell, a story we will never hear, a story of horrendous despair, relieved by a little hope and aspiration, dashed in an instant.

Last week, before we knew about the second sinking, I was at a hustings for Mid Beds. The Conservative candidate (Ms Dorries) was conspicuous by her absence but I listened to the UKIP candidate and others banging on about the country being ‘full’ and not being able to cope with any more immigrants. By the time it got to me I am afraid I lost it – my agent had his head in his hands – (oh no Linda’s off on one!) – but, it is fair to say, I got the loudest applause of the night. And that is what gives me hope. UKIP, BNP, EDL can all perpetrate their various murky grey shades of xenophobia – but we still, thankfully, have enough people in this country who have a sense of common humanity, who believe, like me, there is only one race, the human race. We recognise the enormous contribution immigrants have made to our country. We recognise that the NHS would be in a far worse state if it wasn’t for the immigrant doctors and nurses. We know that the care system would collapse without immigrant carers and that many of our crops would rot in the ground without immigrant labour.

I know our boys will give back far more to this wonderful country of ours than they have ever received – they are and will be a blessing, not just to my family, but to all of us.

* Linda Jack is a former youth worker and member of the party's Federal Policy Committee.

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20 Comments

  • matt (Bristol) 22nd Apr '15 - 12:10pm

    Great post Linda. Keep up the work.

  • What matt just said
    matt (Bristol) 22nd Apr ’15 – 12:10pm
    Great post Linda. Keep up the work.

  • Thank you for writing this Linda.

    Can I also recommend this excellent interview with the UN’s special rapporteur. He spells out what it will take to genuinely end these deaths: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/22/uns-francois-crepeau-on-the-refugee-crisis-instead-of-resisting-migration-lets-organise-it?CMP=share_btn_tw

  • O.K. we’ve now established (yet again), that all UKIP voters are heartless, b**t**ds, so now let’s get to grips with *exactly what is*, the LibDem stance on this unfolding humanitarian mess?
    Here’s the scenario :
    The Captain of a Royal Navy Frigate, from a position in the Mediterranean makes a ‘ship to shore’ radio phone call direct to Nick Clegg.
    Captain :- Sorry old boy,…tried to get hold of Cameron, but he’s busy. I do need a decision from you Nick as deputy PM,.. and urgently Sir? I’ve just picked up about 2,500 refugees from drowning in the Med. We’ve fed and watered them, and got them some space to sleep on the ship. So Nick old boy,… I need an executive order right now if you please,….Where do you want me to drop these poor folk off,.. Sir ?
    What should Clegg’s reply be to the Captain ?

  • The article didn’t mention UKIP voters once, John.

    Behind your ludicrous question is a serious point. We need a proper agreement across the EU over how we can fairly spread the impact of these new refugees across all member states.

  • Malcolm Todd 22nd Apr '15 - 2:17pm

    Thanks for this article, Linda. And thank you Duncan for bringing to my attention that tremendous interview. Without doubt the smartest, most humane and clear-headed piece on migration that I’ve ever read. (Plus he manages to refer to “Kant’s categorical imperative” without sounding like a w*nk*r and that takes some doing.)

  • @Linda Jack. Let me first express my utmost admiration for you on a personal level for giving a much needed home to two orphaned boys. It takes a very special individual to be able to do that.

    But … the corollary of that is that I’m not sure what exactly it is you’re arguing for as an approach to dealing with the crisis in the Mediterranean. Across the world there are must be hundreds of millions of people, perhaps billions, who suffer war, famine, cruel regimes, disease. Should we not feel compassion for all of those people as well as the “lucky” few who manage to get as far as a leaky boat in the Med?

    What you appear to be arguing for is that we should take in all the people who are in desperate circumstances around the world. As I’ve said, its clear you are a special individual in having the time, courage, strength (and financial resources) to take in two traumatised young boys. We can but marvel at your fortitude.

    But let as assume that every household in the UK did as you did – some 25 million households took in two migrants. That would instantly double the population of the UK, but make only a small dent in the perhaps billions of people seeking a better life.

    Which leads me onto the article linked by @Duncan. Can I echo @Malcolms comments. This is pragamatic, humane, cogent and well-argued. I may not agree with all of what he writes, but he does at least have a comprehensive and practical proposal to deal with this human tragedy.

  • I’ve always felt that as a nation that we are at our best once we see past the statistics and are exposed to the reality for individuals. Sadly there are plenty of Hopkins out there but your story gives the perfect antidote to them.

  • Eddie Sammon 22nd Apr '15 - 6:40pm

    I nearly missed this good article. Well done for the caring work.

    We need to look at ways we can improve the situation in war torn areas without simply saying “bring them all over here”. If we shout at people concerned about immigration then it just sounds like we want to bring everyone over. The solution is financial, military and diplomatic aid, as well as accepting refugees.

    I urge people to start thinking and proposing practical solutions to these problems.

  • Eddie Sammon 22nd Apr '15 - 7:18pm

    I’m so frustrated because I don’t think we are trying hard enough to solve this problem. How can we hope to solve the problem without military aid? How is it even progressive to fail to stand up to some of the most vilest groups on earth?

    Nice options such as throwing money and boats at the situation will just let the terrorists win. They will simply loot them. This is one of the reasons why we need to care more about the defence budget.

    States are also mainly responsible for their own security, so we shouldn’t take over, but we can definitely help.

    Regards

  • “I listened to the UKIP candidate and others banging on about the country being ‘full’ and not being able to cope with any more immigrants”

    Sounds like exactly the sort of thing Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne were saying about the south east of England at the last election.

    To be fair to Farage, he has called for some Libyan refugees to be brought here – though he’s particular about what sort of refugees he wants (Christians only, apparently).

    We certainly need a unified and humanitarian effort to deal with the current crisis, especially as the UK and other governments helped to create the current exodus by bombing Libya and then leaving the region to descend in to chaos. We have some moral responsibility for this.

  • The stories are incredibly sad and Farage’s comments vile beyond belief. But solutions sre not easy and Europe cannot absorb everyone who wants to come. We can, however, keep them safe, dry, warm, and fed in refugee camps whilst longer term plans can be worked out. The key is to respond in a way that does not dump people in overcrowded cities without support and stand by whilst local services are overloaded causing resentment to forment. We must have disused military bases we could convert to house large numbers at short notice.

  • Ian Sanderson (RM3) 23rd Apr ’15 – 8:04am
    “….On refugees, we complain about relatively small numbers. The countries with considerable problems with refugees are those neighbouring war zones ”

    Yes indeed, one of the tragedies of Syria is that some of the people who have escaped the fighting to become refugees in Lebanon and Jordan are people whose grandparents and parents had to flee Palestine in the 1940s or 1960s.
    Thousands and thousands of these people have lived in refugee camps for three generations and now have had to seek refuge in yet another country.
    I doubt if there is the remotest possibility that Netanyahu’s ultra-nationalist government will allow Palestinians to return to their own homes and land in Palestine.

  • Well it looks like my **ludicrous** question at (22nd April) above has been answered by Cameron after his EU emergency meeting.
    ” Captain,… take those poor souls you’ve rescued to the nearest Mediterranean port please ”
    (Whispered ) ~ But not back here to the UK.

  • Julian Tisi 23rd Apr '15 - 2:54pm

    What Linda says. Completely.

  • Ruth Bright 23rd Apr '15 - 3:12pm

    Linda – just seen some nauseating footage of Cameron saying that “Britain is always there”. Pity no-one is showing the footage of him from October 2014 endorsing the suspension of Mare Nostrum.

  • @Ruth Bright
    Great, but now we’ve seen the ‘nauseating footage of Cameron’, what is Nick Clegg’s view / stance / opinion on this rescue operation? Goggling his view back in Oct 2014,.. I can only find this comment from him :
    “But earlier Nick Clegg had sidestepped the issue, saying the decision to end the rescue operation was a matter for the Italians. ”
    http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/oct/30/home-office-minister-rescue-migrants-must-be-stopped-mediterranean
    Throwing verbal brickbats at everyone else, is all well and good Ruth, but does Clegg (and/or LibDems officially), have a decisive view on the details of how we need to re-settle these refugees, and if so what is it ?

  • Hi John

    Other than sharing the month and year of his birth Clegg is nothing to do with me. I speak only for myself as a fifth generation “economic migrant” from the Middle East!

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