It’s hard to talk of hope at times like these. It feels insincere, shallow, a little offensive even. After twenty years of fighting the Taliban, UK and US forces withdraw and, in doing so, surrender the advances made in Afghan human rights and democracy to a fundamentalist group that rules through fear and violence. Haiti, still rebuilding from the devastating earthquake of 2010, is hit once more, to a cost of 2200 lives and counting. The people of the Yemen continue to live under constant fear of shelling, as the civil war wages on, ripping the country apart and creating generations of young lives who have never known peace.
And the list goes on…
So where does that leave us? Are we to spend our lives gloomfully aware of the miserable state of the world, depressed by the ugly truth of it all, sullen in our acceptance? Or, should we instead change the channel whenever the television inconsiderately reminds us of the innocent suffering?
It is true that there has never been a time in history absent of conflict, famine, or natural disaster, but the emergent information age now allows us to live stream said horrors from the comfort of our living room sofa. Conversely, the internet has given oppressed populations access to a world where it isn’t normal to fear execution, should you be attracted to a person of the same sex or hold a political view contrary to that of the regime’s. Countries, where you can dress as you please, eat as you please, speak as you please, are within close reach. Should we then be surprised when people make the choice to sell all they own, pack up their essentials and flee, in the hope of a safer life for them and their family?
Forced migration caused by war, famine, and natural disaster is one the greatest causes of modern slavery, as traffickers seize on a person’s vulnerability, desperation, and insecure immigration status. Between 2014 and 2019 there were *33,686 ‘reported’ migrant deaths, a startling figure yet likely to be only a fraction of the true number. So is it really worth it? Would it not be safer to remain in-country?
Covid-19 allowed for a brief break of Brexit-talk, but as the UK and other nations fly home planeloads of Afghan refugees, the dinner party hand grenade topic of immigration seems to be back in conversation. I must confess to being a little hesitant to engage on the subject, especially around people with unapologetically strong views. A less reluctant friend shared his thoughts with me a few weeks back. His views focus on the risks of an open-door policy, with the heightened possibility of terrorists entering the country under the veil of refugee or asylum seeker. He also warned against the impact of encouraging people to favour flight over fight, when responding to the brutal regimes of the world, rather than remaining, resisting, and rallying for change. And then there was the old classic, “the UK has no more space for refugees, we’ve got enough problems of our own”.
I also keep company with friends who occupy the other side of the fence and strongly believe that we should allow access to anyone who seeks to find a better life on UK shores, irrespective of risk. In an attempt to find the middle ground, one particularly well-spoken chum said that, when dealing with those in need, she believed in giving people “a hand-up, not a hand-out”. A phrase that has always irked me. The very wording gives the perspective of looking down on the poor, stooping, in order to drag them up to ‘our’ level.
Still, everyone has the right to an opinion, don’t they? So what’s yours?
I caution those who are quick to judge my friend, the short back and sides, Daily Mail-reading ex-soldier who’s lost friends to the Taliban and knows Afghanistan far better than those of us who’ve only ever seen it on the nightly news. Equally, I sympathise with my comfortably-housed, vegan pals who speak with genuine compassion for those who, through no fault of their own, have been dealt a harsh hand in life.
One fact I am always keen to point out to my friends on the right is the (lesser-known) truth that the fiscal contribution of the immigrant population is net positive. Meaning, that the money spent on public services is outweighed by the income generated in taxes provided by the migrant populus. Not to mention the contribution made towards making the UK a more diverse, accepting, and multi-cultural society. A less comfortable truth, I hesitate to share with my left-leaning friends, is the fact that the majority of domestic terrorist attacks in recent years have involved men who have entered the country as asylum seekers or economic migrants. (*2017 Westminster attack, 2017 Manchester Arena, 2017 Parsons Green, 2017 London Bridge attack, 2018 Westminster attack, 2018 Manchester Victoria Station, 2019 London Bridge attack). It is not always clear whether the attackers entered the country with the intention of committing an act of terror or whether they were radicalised by extremists in the UK as a consequence of feeling marginalised, disenfranchised, and vulnerable.
I wonder what you would do if forced to choose between staying in a country ruled by tyrants or fleeing in pursuit of freedom? For some, it’s a simple choice of life or death.
I am perhaps wrong to lump together varying strands of immigration into one broad category and like most fiercely debated subjects, I would always encourage people to explore nuanced over-simplistic ideals. When it comes to issues like immigration, I try to judge my views through the eyes of my (metaphorical) future grandchild, who asks, whilst completing their history homework: “What did you do Grandad when people fled the Taliban? After the earthquake in Haiti? During the crisis in Yemen?…”
I hope I don’t say: “I changed the channel”.
If you would like to give to support relief efforts in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Haiti, please consider donating to the following charities:
The Migration Observatory, Oxford University.
Migration Data Portal.
International Office of Migration. Migrants and their vulnerability. 2019