A Very Human State


“History in its broadest aspect is a record of man’s migrations from one environment to another.”
Ellsworth Huntington

Imagine this.  There are four people are all looking at the same thing and asked to state what colour it is.  The first person says it is green, the second says it is a bluey-yellow, the third says it’s yellowy-blue and the fourth says it’s not red.  Who is right?

You could say they all are, after all red isn’t green, but green is green and it’s also somewhere between yellow and blue.

Still here? If you followed that train of thought – well done. I promise I have a point and that I am getting to it.

All this talk about colours is actually a bizarre metaphor for how I feel when I read and hear about the mass migration out of the Middle East into Europe. There are so many opinions which have valid points yet at the same time conflict that my brain sometimes feels like it’s about to implode.

Of course there are some ideas about migration as a concept that I just totally reject – after all green will never be red.  I disagree that any country should stop civilian migration across its borders;  I scoff at those who say that immigrants don’t make any contribution to the country that they emigrate to;  I get frustrated at those  lump asylum seekers and refugees into the same group as illegal immigrants and don’t even get me started about the whole “they’re coming over here and taking our jobs” mindset.

No civilian should be expected to “just get on with it” when they are living in a war zone.  Not a single person should be expected to live in a place where they fear for their own or their family’s lives and are at risk from torture, rape or death because of their religion/gender/sexual orientation/nationality e.t.c.  Everyone has the right to seek out a better life for themselves.  Migration is one of the constants of the human condition, some people belief that it is a fundamental human right.  The United Nations, on their International Migrants Day website (which, incidentally, is on the 18th December) state:

“Throughout human history, migration has been a courageous expression of the individual’s will to overcome adversity and to live a better life. Today, globalization, together with advances in communications and transportation, has greatly increased the number of people who have the desire and the capacity to move to other places.”

Let’s see that again:

“Throughout human history, migration has been a courageous expression of the individual’s will to overcome adversity and to live a better life.

Courageous expression.  Get that? People all over our planet move across international borders every day and there are an estimated 232 million international migrants at the moment and you know what, some of them are from the country you were born in too and there’s a good chance that most people you know are the descendants of immigrants or are immigrants themselves.  Someone I knew many many years ago was a unapologetic racist and stated that anyone who wasn’t white should “go back where they came from”.  His parents had emigrated from the Republic of Ireland to live in England, so he was essentially a second generation immigrant.. his family had been in the UK less time than many of the individuals who he spouted such bile about.

So I fully accept and support the free movement of migrants across international borders.  In fact it often benefits the destination country:

“Europe and Africa share proximity and history, ideas and ideals, trade and technology. You are tied together by the ebb and flow of people. Migration presents policy challenges – but also represents an opportunity to enhance human development, promote decent work, and strengthen collaboration”

 – Ban Ki-moon

What genuinely concerns me about migration, especially the mass migration that is happening right now (and so the problems are compounded by numbers) is the situations that migrants may find themselves in when they get to their intended destination.

Everyone has the right to seek asylum it’s a legal process – there is no such thing as a “bogus asylum seeker” – they were just unable to prove that they required refugee status. The UN Refugee Agency defines a refugee as a person who:

‘owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country’

1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees

While they are waiting for their application for asylum to be processed they cannot legally work and have no choice where they live.  If they aren’t in an a detention centre they are in the social housing which no one else wants, surviving on just over £5 each for food, clothing and sanitation. An unsuccessful application means they will probably be deported.  This does not make them criminals, they just couldn’t provide enough evidence of their alleged persecution.  As Kofi Annan said:

“Let us remember that a bogus asylum-seeker is not equivalent to a criminal; and that an unsuccessful asylum application is not equivalent to a bogus one”

Kofi Annan

If their application is denied they may just “disappear” and join the illegal immigrant demographic.  However “illegals” are highly likely to be exploited: working long hours for little or no pay which would rarely would take them into the threshold to pay any kind of income tax anyway.  The reason they are taking those jobs is because no one else will (and quite rightly so).  They also can’t claim benefits and they can’t risk using our healthcare or schools for fear of being caught and subsequently deported.  Does that sound like someone who is sponging off the state to you?  Do you think someone would choose to live like that if they really weren’t desperate?

Migration Isn't A Crime

Migration isn’t a crime, our species is just hard-wired to naturally seek out an environment which benefits us.

I do worry about whether the country I live in (the UK) would have the resources to support a mass ingress of migrants.  Not just the physical space but the housing (which we are being told we have a shortage of) and the provision of education, healthcare, food and employment.  The idea that someone has travelled so far, maybe spending time in a detention centre when they get here to be granted asylum and then to not be able to find employment, have their children put into overcrowded classrooms or have wait for weeks to even be able to register with a GP (which I have no doubt sounds familiar to many “natives”) just worries me.

We have people who are already here (citizens or otherwise) being marginalised and penalised for being in situations that are out of their control.  It feels like we need to fix what is going wrong for our country, with it’s ageing population, before we commit to being able to support 20,000 refugees from Syria by 2020 (I’m not expecting there to be any change in the levels of refugees we get from other countries).

So I remain conflicted about how I want the UK government to help these people (and, indeed the rest of the world).  I do think we should help, I’m just not sure there is a simple answer as to how… though I’m probably just guilty of over-thinking it all.  I’ll just leave you with this last thought:

Whatever your feelings about immigration policy in the country you live in remember this:

Migration is not a crime.

Have a good weekend.

Dizz