Don’t blame migrants – the West helped to create their plight

When bigots tell me to go back to where I came from, I remind them I am here because the British government supported Idi Amin

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The Independent Online

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.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, one of the panellists in last week’s edition of the programme, does the same.

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.

The Battersea Arts Centre is currently showcasing The Siege, a raw, theatrical enactment of tense months in 2002 when the Israeli army besieged the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The church had given sanctuary to Palestinian fighters.

In the end, a deal was negotiated by European Union leaders. The Israelis pulled back and the Palestinians were sent into permanent exile. The most moving moment comes when they talk about banishment. They live in the West, have security and life chances. But the aching pain of displacement goes on and they cannot be happy.

Most migrants carry that 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.

To many Britons, the current crisis is disconnected from history, and from global geopolitics. Again, it is so much easier to think of “them” and “us”, and disregard Western culpabilities, past and present.

In 2011, David Cameron, on a visit to Pakistan, accepted that Britain was responsible for many of the world’s intractable problems. It was the first and only time I recall a British leader accepting that colonialism left fractures and stains which have led to discord and failed states. (Margaret Thatcher, as well as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, extolled the Empire and the subjugation of millions.) Mr Cameron was savaged by the right-wing press and Labour’s Tristram Hunt. Maybe that is why he never again spoke candidly about that history. Silence is the path of least resistance.

No, you can’t just blame white people for post-colonial chaos and failures. Since independence, leaders have almost all been incompetent, corrupt and callous. Dictatorships and one-party rule, profligacy and greed, have despoiled potentially productive nations, turning them into hopeless, dependent, unsustainable entities. But the case against old European imperialists is strong and indubitable.

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Theresa May and David Cameron talk to Immigration Enforcement officers after the officers raided residential properties looking for illegal immigrants

 

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. Are these then our noble British values?

When bigots tell me to go back to where I came from, I remind them I am here because the British government supported Idi Amin’s bid for power. A million or more black Ugandans fled or were killed. Some fled to the UK. Has Britain ever admitted this was a big mistake? (Don’t, please, fire off letters accusing me of hating this country. Fair criticism is not hatred.)

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.

Anup Shah is the editor of the excellent www.globalissues.org. He writes about the unjust trading system. The West protects its interests and pushes poorer countries to supply materials, labour and goods at the lowest costs. To be a dumping ground, too.

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.

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