Thursday, March 04, 2004


The words immigration and asylum seeker have become dirty in this country. Being still quite young it may be that they've always been dirty words, I just didn't notice it. It seems not a day goes by without either the Daily Mail or Daily Express pronouncing how our entire way of life is under threat from the invading hordes of foreigners who are only intent on suckling on our already overstretched benefits teat. These two bastions of the right wing press have set their stall out with the clear intention of spinning the news against asylum seekers and misguiding their readers into believing that all who come to our shores should be turned away.

How have they managed this? Through the art of spin writing. A story about a woman being raped, while shocking, is not front page news in this country. It happens on a far too regular basis. Change the headline to "Girl raped by asylum seeker" and suddenly you've got your front page. Of course these newspapers don't say that every asylum seeker is a rapist, but by writing the story in a certain way they get their readers associating rapist, or thief, or benefit cheat, with asylum seeker.

After seeing so many headlines about how these immigrants are going to destroy our NHS it was refreshing to see a newspaper choose to dedicate its whole front page to quashing the myth that these people are a waste on our nations resources. The Independent printed a front page article on Tuesday highlighting how the NHS was being kept alive by some 44,000 immigrants who live and work in this country.

They are of all colours, all backgrounds and from all points of the globe. Some came for love, some for money, some for a better life, but they are all working for one purpose to keep the NHS going.

Home Office figures show that 44,443 healthcare staff from countries outside the European Union were issued with work permits last year, a 27-fold increase on the number in 1993.

They fill every role in the health service from doctors and nurses to pharmacists, radiographers and occupational therapists. They go where British professionals are reluctant to work traffic-choked inner cities and grimy housing estates and they perform the essential caring tasks that their British counterparts are reluctant to take on.
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The asylum issue is a controversial one. To announce that you want to tighten security on our borders can be seen as racist if taken out of context. Similarly, to say that you have liberal views on asylum can be interpreted as meaning you are happy to let anyone who wants to move here come on over. This is not the point. New laws and procedures aimed at improving our immigration system merely make it harder for genuine cases to enter this country.

Britain is a mongrel nation. That isn't something that's happened in the last 50 years. We have been like this for thousands of years. Britain has always been a refuge for those escaping persecution. It is one of our oldest and greatest traditions. Given that the Daily Mail launches a letter writing campaign whenever the government threatens to modernise one of our great traditions, it seems ironic that they should choose to campaign to destroy this one.

To turn a person away who is desperate for help. Who, on returning to their homeland will be tortured and persecuted does not put across the image that we are a civilised nation. Closing off borders was one of the first policies launched by Adolf Hitler in response to a terrorist attack on his nation. We all know what that led to.

We have a duty to protect those in need be they from this country or another. Our population is not going to triple because of immigration. People in nations like Slovakia often refuse to relocate from within their own nation because they enjoy a sense of locality. To assume that they will immediately up sticks and move thousands of miles to Britain in the summer is ludicrous.

Asylum seekers should not be feared. They should be welcomed. Those who can work here should be put on the road to work. Those who are unfit, through illness or injury should be cared for by our benefit system.

We are all of immigrant stock in this nation. Just because my family has been here for hundreds of years, does not make me more worthy of living here than a family who have been here for 10.

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