Christopher Walker: The huddled masses are our allies and not our enemies

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The Independent Online

A rag-bag of refugees gathered in a London pub.

A rag-bag of refugees gathered in a London pub. In the week following the attacks on the World Trade Centre, they had gravitated by some unique force to London, as the closest they could get to being back home. These were not Afghanis or Serbs, but New Yorkers – each with friends or family missing. In the emotion of the hour, and after much alcohol, we ended up bursting into song (not usual for investment bankers): "God Bless America". It was then I looked around me and realised not one of us was born American.

The world is in mourning, of a very special kind. Opinion polls and surveys around the globe show that it is an emotion tinged with fear. The determination and extremism of the new terrorist threat is no doubt to blame – but it is not just that. It is the growing feeling that the enemy is in our midst. He could be sitting next to you in that crowded Tube, or standing behind you in the queue at the supermarket. This is a "new kind of war", and one that leads us to suspect our neighbour. It is sad to read of the increased level of racial crime that has developed since 11 September.

In the UK, this comes after a long period of growing hysteria about asylum-seekers, further whipped up during the last election campaign. Acres of newsprint were devoted to cross-Channel people smuggling, benefit fraud and a supposed plague of women wearing coloured head- scarves begging for money.

The Government's talk of identity cards, tougher immigration controls and even the introduction of gamma-ray machines at our main airports has hardly helped. Governments around the world seem to be using the increased terrorist threat as an excuse to launch a serious assault on our civil liberties. None of these measures would have stopped the hijackers. Attempts to portray them as an extremely sophisticated group are nonsense – they spent a few thousand dollars and carried paper knives. Most important, they had lived in the US for months with valid papers.

Britain has been portrayed as a "soft touch" with an overly generous benefit system and inadequate border controls. This is simply not true. Our voucher system (at a mere £26 a week) is close to half of what France pays. The UK application procedure is immensely complex, involving a full 19-page document (only in English) which requires legal advice. Britain has put more asylum-seekers into detention than any other European nation.

The UK is a magnet for asylum-seekers because of the incredibly good job prospects offered at every level. Indeed, rather than bemoaning the minuscule welfare cost involved in the current level of migration, we should consider the massive economic benefits these migrants bring, and the consequences of labour shortfalls. I am currently living through a major building project. The craftsmen are nearly all of Balkan origin. I shudder to think what the cost and delays would have been if this imported labour had not been there to cope with our building boom.

It's about time the Government had the courage to embrace the economic advantages of our racial and cultural diversity. Instead of some misty-eyed debate over what constitutes political asylum, perhaps we should be openly recognising our national self-interests and a basic human right: migration for economic benefit.

Obviously the world's most successful economy, the US, is living testament to this fact. 12 per cent of its work- force (let alone their parents) were not born in America. In Britain the figure is only 4 per cent.

Which brings us back to that pub. Americans are made, not born, and the same is increasingly true of us Europeans. It is a fact that makes us all stronger economically. Even if we wanted to go back on this policy of diversity, it is simply too late. The sabre- rattling against immigrants is pointless. The small-minded racialists on either side of the Atlantic, who talk as if we can haul up our drawbridge, have failed to understand political reality and economic advantage.

This is a new war, one that must be fought as much with ideas as guns, and which will be won through the attractions of economic and political freedoms. "Give me your tired, your poor,/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free ... /I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

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