South of the River – Immigrant Song

Compass-SouthComment logo 2The refugee crisis continues and public opinion seems to swing one way and then another.

Throughout the year people have been drowning in the Mediterranean. Sometimes it gets in the news sometimes it’s ignored. Katie Hopkins was able to get away with saying she “Didn’t care if migrants drowned”, then the photo of three year old Aylan Kurdi lying dead on a Turkish beach splashed across every front page and everyone said we must help these people.

Many people seem to have come up with a handy categorisation to match this split opinion. We should help genuine refugees, but not economic migrants. Well that’s pretty straightforward, who could argue with that formulation?

Of course it all depends on your definitions. Most people would say anyone from Syria should be treated as a genuine refugee. There is a terrible civil war raging, a quarter of a million civilians have lost their lives, half the population aren’t living in their home, if it still exists. But I’ve seen comments on social media that single young men don’t count, only families with women and children.

What about if you’ve come from Afghanistan or Pakistan. British troops have left Afghanistan so it must be safe right? Wrong, this week the Taliban captured the city of Kunduz. Pakistan? There are regular bombings and killings of people from religious minorities. There are plenty of other countries that don’t make the news, where your lifestyle or opinions marks you as an enemy of the state and puts your life in danger.

A definition of Economic migrants must be easier, surely? We’re talking about people leaving impoverished countries for a better life in economically advanced Europe. Understandable, but sorry there’s not enough room, especially if we’re taking in ‘genuine’ refugees.

The trouble is that once again the lines are blurred. Many of the Africans leaving Libya had been working there for years with no intention of coming to Europe until they became targeted in the Libyan civil war. They were not just passing through, they were living there and now they are fleeing for their lives.

And then there’s the question of why people don’t feel they have a future in the country they leave. A look at the issue of the Somali pirates might be instructive.

The people who started hijacking ships in the Arabian Sea were fishermen. The usual narrative we get is that Somali is a lawless country, a ‘failed state’. The implication being that when the state breaks down we all become savages, and some of us become pirates.

This leaves out the actions of the European Union trawler fleet in the Arabian Sea. The fishermen used to make a decent living until the trawlers turned up and hoovered up all the fish. The fishermen lost their livelihood and turned their seafaring skills to piracy. I’m not saying they should have started taking over ships by force and holding the crew and cargo to ransom. I am just saying that the EU played a part in the story and therefore hold some share of the responsibility.

You can find similar stories across the third world, from oil companies in the Niger delta to mining companies … well, all over the globe.

So where does that leave us? It seems to me that refugee and economic migrant is a false distinction. The journeys people make are not easy or undertaken lightly. If you talk to people who have made them they all have a story to tell and staying put is not an option.

The truth is that the spread of capitalism has always led to migration of ordinary people as their old way of life is undermined and they have to find a new way to make a living. Are you Leeds born and bred? A pound to a penny you are the descendants of migrants then. In 1750 Leeds was a small market town with some wool trainers, by 1850 it was a city of 100,000.

Impoverished agricultural labourers moved from other parts of England to work in the new factories and live in the slums of Holbeck and Hunslet. Since then the city has grown and prospered on wave after wave of migrants, from Ireland, Jews from Eastern Europe, from the West Indies, from India and Pakistan (sometimes via East Africa) and from Vietnam and Kosovo.

We are all the children the migrants. We should all show compassion to today’s migrants.

I’ll be back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.



Give ad 567

4 Replies to “South of the River – Immigrant Song”

  1. Another great piece Jeremy. It’s important to open out the discussion so we can all see the wider issues.

    I’ve long campaigned on economic justice issues because that’s about recognising the effects of things like the how tax paid (or rather not) by multi-national companies enables countries, rich and poor, to build their countries and create better societies – where there are good taxation systems you have better governance and less corruption. Less tax paid = more migrants and refugees.

    If we buy from companies who avoid tax, or our savings and pensions are with those companies, then we’re contributing to the problem.

    I could also mention climate change and how that is expected to cause huge migration because people can no longer get a living from their land, although they are not the ones who are causing the carbon emissions. But that’s a whole other area…

  2. Interesting piece, though a distinction must be drawn between being compassionate and opening our doors unconditionally to people wanting to come here.

    Our services are at breaking point – housing demand is off the chart and NHS waiting lists are a mile long – that’s with legal migration being at 300k per annum.

    Money needs to be invested in the affected regions – to build ‘safe areas’ so that people can congregate to meet lost loved ones, for aid to be delivered and applications for asylum processed.

    Someone fleeing the region ought to be a higher priority than a person who has entered Europe and chosen to travel to Calais in the hope of coming here.

    People who can afford to pay traffickers shouldn’t be able to simply jump the queue.

  3. “Our services are at breaking point – housing demand is off the chart and NHS waiting lists are a mile long – that’s with legal migration being at 300k per annum.”

    The state of public services in Britain today has nothing whatsoever to do with migration – legal or “illegal”, except in this one respect: it is thanks to the presence of skilled and dedicated migrant workers that these services are running at all.

    That the NHS is at breaking point, and that there is insufficient good quality housing of the right kind for working people of any ethnicity and national origin, is solely due to the choices made by successive governments since the late 1970s.

    As followers of right-wing economists from the Chicago School, they have made ideological choices to pursue political and economic policies such as lowering corporate taxation, reducing public spending as a proportion of national wealth, attacking collective forms of organisation and provision that supported working and middle-class families (trades unions, child benefit, social housing, welfare rights), while promoting home ownership and other individualised forms of social provision which favour private business, and in particular large multi-national firms, in which they and/or their families and friends have shares and directorships.

    In following these policies they have succeeded in effecting a huge transfer of wealth from the working and middle-class families, into the pockets of their class. There is now a wider gap between rich and poor than at any time since the 1800s.

    This is robbery on a grand scale, and they have succeeded in it so far partly by putting up a series of smokescreens, bogey-men and women, to distract people’s attention. Blame trades unionists, blame greedy overpaid public sector workers, blame the “workshy” unemployed, sick, or disabled people, the “baby-boomers”, the feckless”welfare queens”, blame migrants. Ignore the fact that migrants contribute more to the economy in tax and insurance than they take out in benefits and services. Ignore the fact that successive governments have chosen to underfund infrastructure: housing, education, rail, health and social care, and to privatise provision (and profit) where possible that they have chosen to impose a quite unnecessary policy of “austerity” upon blue and white-collar workers and our families. Blame migrants instead.

    Isn’t about time we stopped swallowing the lies we’re fed by an elite that cares for no-one but their own class, and for nothing but their own wealth? Isn’t it about time we understood, and asserted, that we have more in common with the foreign-born nurses and doctors who run our NHS, the foreign-born care workers who care for our parents and grandparents, the pickers and packers who prepare and dispatch the goods that we buy, and with the desperate people fleeing war and deprivation who until a few years ago were leading ordinary just like ours, than with the toffs, despots and oligarchs who rule us?

    One final point. Wealth can move anywhere it chooses in the world, on a whim, chasing profits. This week alone we hear that Chinese capital will be invested in a new nuclear plant in Britain, while the Thai steel firm SSI has closed the Redcar plant and withdrawn its investment, declaring itself “bankrupt”. British and multi-national firms routinely “offshore” their profits to avoid tax. As long as this situation continues, I see nothing wrong in ordinary people moving for a better life. Or even, just to live.

    Refugees and their families are welcome here.

  4. Well said Jeremy Morton and Susan Talbot. I say refugees are welcome here too. Capitalist-loving and individual debt-creating Ukippers and Tories are creating a hell-hole for all of us. I agree with every word written here by Jeremy and Susan. Hilarious though it is that Farage has got his self nice and rich in the EU from British and European tax payers whilst simultaneously playing the divide and rule card, in reality they are creating a dangerous situation for all of us. Wannabe politicians like Senior on here think they have the right to say who lives and who dies! Unbelievable! He is not interested in the fact that this island is only 7% built upon. That there are 1 million empty homes. That before this current humanitarian crisis most refugees still end up in the worst of properties or worse languishing in disgusting detention centres. He appears to have not a clue about what British Imperialism did to the world and its people. And is still doing.

    Historically people do not tend to leave their homes and lands in large numbers. In the late 1940s people from The Caribbean were actually invited here to work in the British economy. People who are fleeing war are human beings. From Syria many have been saving up for the terrifying journey they had jobs and homes and lives. If US/UK capitalism has destroyed your habitat and you need to leave to find a life then you are an “economic migrant” so therefore according to the ukippers not entitled to a life at all. If climate change has destroyed your livelihood you are an “economic migrant” and to the ukippers not entitled to a life either. I am thoroughly sickened by the Tories and kippers. They get to dominate the discourse through the right-wing media.

    This Tory conference has been a particularly nasty one. Very racist and encouraging hatred of poor people, sick and disabled people, low-paid people and children and young people. Farage is full of glee now that Theresa May is saying what he has always been saying. Filthy politics all round. Racist attacks are once again on the rise. Presently aimed at Muslims. Poverty is on the rise. Meanwhile thousands of ordinary working-class people are helping the refugees in both Calais and at Fortress Europe and in The Middle East. 100,000 people demonstrated against the Tories in Manchester this weekend. We now have wonderful leadership in the Social Democrat Jeremy Corbyn so some hope and light appears. Together we must fight FOR all our human rights refugees, Trade Unionists, women, LGBT and children. We will not be walked into a dystopian future dominated by Tories and kippers. Instead we will do what the organised working class has done since the rise of The Chartists and we will organise and we will fight. We will be Suffragists again!

    “Safe areas” in war-zones? Don’t make me laugh! Let Them In!

Comments are closed.