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Migrants just remind us of our shameful track record

By Yasmin Alibhai Brown

Published 26/05/2015

Figures: David Cameron
Figures: David Cameron

On Question Time, an Asian man slams the Government for failing to stem migration and damns migrants as "benefits tourists". He speaks broken English and is clearly a migrant himself. Yet he smears all recent incomers and presumes to know their motives for trying to enter Britain.

Meanwhile, David Cameron tries to explain the latest immigration figures - the highest for a decade. He impugns Vince Cable and the Liberal Democrats, accuses people-traffickers and migrants themselves.

These are now the established, unopposed narratives. After years of ferocious migrant-bashing, the national psyche has been successfully reprogrammed: millions of our citizens truly believe that humans from the old Soviet Union, Africa, Asia and the Middle East are flocking to get at those gorgeous council flats and big, fat, State handouts.

So easy, isn't it? Just blame those who can't answer back. Don't think too deeply about why there is this movement of peoples and how they feel before, during and after they leave their homelands.

Most migrants carry a sense of loss, even those who went off voluntarily to seek better fortune. Those who have never felt the need or pressure to emigrate can't empathise with them, for that would be a chink in their fortress mentality. Fear is a terrible thing. It depletes compassion.

Last week, one Drusilla Long had a letter in a newspaper about desperate and desperately unwanted migrants. She was raised in Ghana during British rule. "I believe (we should) return some of the immense wealth we all stole from these countries, such as gold, diamonds, etc, which we have long used to build up our own wealthy 'fortress' Europe," she wrote. Brave woman, saying the unsayable.

Then there is the continuing support this country gives to oppressive regimes, the arms we sell, and the wars we have launched in the past 20 years. Iraqis never chose to become resented refugees, nor did Afghans.

Libya is now the export depot for hungry, frightened, distressed people. The allies who bombed the place have gone and feel no obligation for the mess they left. Many Isis insurgents are from Saddam Hussein's old Baathist army.

True, we did not intervene in Syria, but for decades Bashar al-Assad was propped up by us, as was his equally heinous father. Many of the migrants trying to get into Europe come from these places. They are hated perhaps because they remind us of our bad policies and actions.

Among the flotsam and jetsam of wandering humans are "economic migrants" who are seen as the biggest threat of all. They, too, are victims of Western games and unending austerity measures. We know how that affects the vulnerable and should understand why people die trying to escape poverty.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank have driven down spending on health and education across Africa and elsewhere. Developing world debt is used by the West to cut the cost of raw materials and steal resources. Privatisation is the condition for borrowing money. It stinks.

The EU, IMF and World Bank must transform the system; our leaders need to tell more truths about the dispossessed. Xenophobia, withdrawal of welfare and gunboats won't stop the tide of humanity coming to our shores.

They come because they have no choice. But the West does.

Belfast Telegraph

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