Britain has been immersed in a toxic political climate on asylum and immigration, but DIANE ABBOTT has hope that this could be about to change
RECENTLY the popular BBC religious affairs programme Songs of Praise broadcast from the migrant and refugee camp in Calais.
The outpouring of bile this provoked showed how ugly the debate on asylum and immigration has become in recent years, but the change in public mood in the weeks since then shows that progressives can win our arguments on issues relating to the need to welcome refugees and also to stop the scapegoating of both migrants and refugees for the problems facing “austerity Britain.”
Earlier this summer we had the Prime Minister describing desperate refugees as a “swarm” — comments that drew strong criticism from anti-racist campaigners who point out that Calais is a symptom of a global refugee crisis which is seeing Syrians, Eritreans, Sudanese and Iraqis escaping a myriad of crises to neighbouring countries.
If the image of people rounded up in a stadium in Greece is shocking, it’s the product of Britain refusing to co-operate with the EU on how to deal with this global issue in a humanitarian way.
I commend prominent members of the Jewish community for calling on David Cameron to prioritise a humanitarian response, a call that was rightly echoed by Jeremy Corbyn and Yvette Cooper during the Labour leadership campaign.
We need to remember that during the Holocaust national papers shamefully denigrated Jewish people fleeing Hitler as they landed here, but also to remember that we have a proud tradition of being a refuge for those in need.
The experience of the Jewish community in the 20th century should remind us where this sort of racism can lead.
For centuries lies have been spread about immigrants taking the jobs of established British communities, or being the cause of economic recession and downturn.
From Jewish people in the 19th century, Irish people in the early 20th century, African, Bangladeshi, Indian and Pakistani communities in the post-war era through to Polish, Romanian, Bulgarian and eastern European migrants in the last decade, immigrants have always been the convenient scapegoat. Calais refugees are only the most recent target.
The only thing driving down living standards is the Tory government’s austerity agenda — £12 billion worth of cuts to the welfare state and the £3bn cuts to public services announced in the Budget.
This is slowing down growth to the point of stagnation and is also making living standards worse.
The fact is that our foreign policy, with military intervention, has resulted in destabilisation.
We need to have a compassionate response towards people risking horrific deaths in the Mediterranean who are clearly desperate to escape war, social unrest and poverty. These situations are hard for us to imagine in Britain.
Faced with situations like this, those at the top sometimes need ordinary people to be their conscience and we have certainly seen that this summer.
Aid convoys to Calais have received great sign ups and support.
A Refugees Welcome Here event in London was attended by some 50,000 people and addressed by Labour’s new leader Jeremy Corbyn.
At the time of writing, over 380,000 people have signed the Change.org petition that Britain must accept its fair share of refugees seeking safety in Europe.
The toxic political climate on asylum and immigration in Britain in recent years has been bad for our higher-education sector, bad for business and bad for our nation. Let’s hope that will now change for good.
Diane Abbott is Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington and shadow secretary of state for international development.