Sunday 30 June 1996
FUNNY, isn't it, how "economic migrant" has become a negative label? It is all that is necessary to put people behind barbed wire, treat them like criminals - although criminals at least know the length of their sentence - and deport them, in many cases without any legal formalities.
This thought occurred as Malaysia and the Philippines emptied their camps of Vietnamese "boat people" and France and Spain threw out hundreds of Africans who had come in search of a better life. Yet what were the millions who crossed to America over the past century but economic migrants? The Industrial Revolution here would have been a non-starter if its labour demands had not been fulfilled from across the Irish Sea. London Transport too would have come to a halt without its Caribbean recruiting campaign.
The argument now, of course, is that there should be aid and investment to promote development in the countries the migrants are coming from. Yet the countries they are heading for are cutting back on assistance, by and large, and much of the money seems to be going instead on tougher security measures at home. It is hard to understand how this can be called a global economy when people cannot migrate to the parts of the globe where the jobs are - and that, surely, is how to ensure its health, rather than creating hermetically-sealed pockets of poverty in one place and labour starvation in another.
A twisted plot
Any excuse will do to hold an international convention, so why not one for people whose churches have twisted spires? They are already on their sixth annual gathering, which this year was in the French village of Puiseaux.
I learn from their publicity that there are 79 spiral steeples in Europe, some built that way on purpose, but most having twisted of their own accord.
In Puiseaux the cause is believed to be vinegar, which was used to extinguish a fire in the steeple in 1785. Weather is blamed in some other cases, but usually the reason is a mystery: in the middle ages it was often believed to be the work of the devil.
As for our own Chesterfield, claims that its spire got into a knot after Tony Benn became the local MP are generally considered untrue.
In some ways this is also a twisted tale about a church spire. The Disney cartoon rendering of the Pocahontas story was ridiculed for its rabid political correctness, but you begin to understand their nervousness when you hear that Gypsies may sue the company over The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
The cause of the trouble is the skirt-spinning Esmeralda, sexily voiced by Demi Moore, who has to evade the cartoonish lust of the villain, Frodo. The depiction of Esmeralda and her friends, says an angry letter to Disney Adventures magazine, perpetuates a damaging and inaccurate image of Gypsies as "magicians and thieves, tambourine-wielding wagon dwellers, complete with bare feet and earrings". A Romany Internet group is buzzing with furious comment, and a couple who say their children left the film in tears have contacted their lawyer.
Serves Disney right for bowdlerising Victor Hugo's classic by giving it a happy ending.
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