“The government’s ‘hostile environment’ pits people against each other by blaming migrants, refugees & asylum seekers for low pay and poor housing, education & access to health care, rather than the real culprits – the policies implemented by the Tories.”Nadia Jama, #GrassrootsVoice NEC candidate
By Nadia Jama, Labour NEC candidate.
In the last month we have seen anti-refugee, anti-migrant and anti-asylum seeker rhetoric play out in all of its ugliness. Nigel Farage ridiculously dubbed the people desperate enough to try to make the crossing in a rubber boat from France an ‘invasion’ of our beaches, telling people that they were coming here only to exploit our benefits system.
It was followed by news channels providing daily wall-to-wall coverage of channel crossings, with journalists siding up to overcrowded dinghies as those on board bailed water to stay afloat. Reporters seemed ghoulishly more interested in getting the next news hour’s breaking headline, rather than protecting lives or sharing the human stories of the individuals on the decrepit boats.
The occupants of the dinghies were asked, ‘where are you from’ and ‘why are you coming here’? Responses ranged from Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen – countries that have all been devastated by bombs dropped by the British army or sold by British arms dealers. After these military interventions made it impossible to live in those countries, is it any wonder refugees want to escape their homelands for the chance of a safe life?
This channel-crossing voyeurism is a sick media fetish that focuses on the tragic outcome of Western foreign policy – the forced migration of thousands of refugees – while feeling no obligation to explain why those decisions have actively created the stream of people fleeing their homes to try to get here, to safety.
Priti Patel was told months ago that her refugee and asylum policy would result in desperate people chancing ever more hazardous routes to cross the channel. Her response was to pledge to make the journey even more dangerous – or as she euphemistically said, ‘unviable’ – for those seeking sanctuary.
Last week the news reached us of 16 year old Abdulfatah Hamdallah who was found drowned on a French beach after being denied a safe, legal route to the UK. Days later we were told that he was 28 years old. Social media was littered with racist commentary and little compassion for a life cut tragically short – but why should being 28 lessen his right to a better life? The lack of humanity is a far cry from the global outpouring when Alan Kurdi was found on a beach in Turkey less than 5 years ago.
A recent YouGov poll stated that almost 50% of Brits have little or no sympathy for people crossing the channel. Our media and politicians must take responsibility for this. The government’s hostile environment pits people against each other by blaming migrants, refugees and asylum seekers for low pay and poor housing, education and access to health care, rather than the real culprits – the policies implemented by the most right wing Tory government we have endured since Thatcher.
Then we learned of the heart-breaking story of Mercy Baguma and her son. Words cannot express how deeply shameful it is that we have a government so brutal and inhumane that a mother died at the side of her child – a baby – who was found crying and suffering from starvation. She lived in such extreme poverty, here on our shores, unable to access the means to support herself and her child, because of a racist system that denies migrants the right to work or “recourse to public funds”.
Labour’s response should be unhesitating – we should make no concessions to the divide and rule racism driving the Tory’s anti-migrant agenda. We need an end to the hostile environment and we should provide legal routes and safe means of asylum to people fleeing violence and persecution. The British government must meet its legal obligations to refugees, as well as allowing people the ability to exercise their rights to seek asylum. No one is illegal.
We also need to end the causes of the huge movements of desperate people fleeing their homes across the globe. Our 2019 manifesto properly stated that refugees are victims of war, environmental catastrophes, famine and persecution. Rather than pouring fuel on the conflicts that rage in the Middle East – Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen – we need an ethical foreign policy that promotes negotiation and diplomacy over bombs and military boots on the ground.
It is not enough simply to regret the terrible loss of life in the Channel or the poverty-induced death of migrants at home. Labour must demand that we dismantle the cruel and punitive system that has caused those deaths, and put an end to the conditions abroad that have resulted in the inhumane camps of people, huddled in Calais and at the borders of Europe.
We should insist that the real source of people’s troubles aren’t migrants or asylum seekers, but under-investment in our public services, weakened trade unions and an economy geared to proving profits for shareholders, rather than the jobs, housing and infrastructure we need to provide everyone – from wherever they have come – with a decent standard of living.
As the old labour movement slogan goes, “an injury to one is an injury to all”. If we are unwilling to defend all our people – whether they are migrants, refugees or otherwise – we are incapable of defending anyone. That’s not altruism or charity; it’s solidarity.