I recently met someone who had been taken in, hook, line and sinker
by the hype generated by the tabloids and the main political
parties around asylum seekers and economic migrants. Her argument
was that foreigners were flooding the country, so that they could
take advantage of our so-called generous benefits system, free
housing and health care, while simultaneously taking the jobs from
deserving (British) people.
For the first time, I found a line of argument with which, as
generally liberal, I feel wholly comfortable. I asked her to
imagine herself in a similar position. What would it take to get
you even to think seriously about leaving your home, friends,
family, possessions, everything that is familiar and comfortable?
How afraid of your neighbours or your government, or starvation,
would you have to be to send your child, alone, or even leave your
children, to go on an illicit, probably dangerous, journey of
thousands of miles?
But, she asked, if people were really in danger, wouldn’t they be
happy to seek asylum at the first port of call? What would be the
point of trying to get to the UK? Surely they are just economic
migrants, trying to get around by asylum laws?
If I were planning to escape my country, for whatever reason, I’d
make some kind of plan, however vague. I’d want to get to a place
where I believed I stood the best chance of making a new life.
Maybe a country where I spoke the language, knew something of the
culture, where I would hope for a safe haven.
If I were escaping this country, I’d be seeking asylum in another
English-speaking country, intending to travel through France or
Italy to get to Canada, for instance. I don’t know what Canada’s
laws are on asylum, (so why should we expect asylum seekers to know
our immigration and asylum laws?) but I’d hope that I would be
treated with respect, and allowed some dignity.
As for “stealing” jobs, isn’t it true that the service industries,
nursing and caring included, would collapse, particularly in the
South East, without the recent influx of migrants?