I’ve thought more about immigration in 2015 than I have in the last 20 years put together. And that’s despite having lived with a non-Brit for all of those 20 years. In the first half of 2015, it was UKIP that raised my blood pressure. And now the refugee crisis that reduces me to tears.
My day job in social housing has caused me to think and talk a lot about race, faith and valuing difference. In my life outside work, there somehow wasn’t so much “thinking” there was simply “living”. This corporate-speak of ‘valuing difference’ was simply normal life for me and thousands of other people who like me live in a big metropolitan city like London. By and large, happy days.
My husband, known affectionately on twitter as The Sidster, is Turkish. He gained a degree in this country, and has worked as a radiographer for the last 20 odd years. He’s paid his taxes, repaid his student loan, never claimed any benefits, and aside from one speeding fine, qualifies as a fine upstanding citizen. In fact, let’s face it, he deserves a bloody medal for having lived with me all these years. But dear UKIPers, he wouldn’t have made it through your “Australian style points system”. And it would have been the UK’s loss.
It strikes me that Germany remembers its history, and plans well for its future. Germany looks to welcome 800,000 refugees. It recognises that refugees can be a long term asset to a nation. Contrast this with the short term view of refugees as a financial burden from the UKIPers. Sure there’s an initial cost, and it’s too great to be born solely by those countries on Europe’s borders. But long term, people are an asset to a nation. And the young people in particular – they create the future wealth of our nation.
Immigration has touched so many of our lives, and I wonder if we’ve somehow forgotten this. My mother has a german friend who fled the nazis during WW2. I have two friends with German mothers who came to the UK in the aftermath of WW2. Another with a mother who arrived from Hungary. Two friends are descended from Hugenots. Another with parents affected by partition in India. Another two who settled themselves direct from Zimbabwe, three from South Africa, two from Ghana, one from the Congo, two from China, one from Singapore… I run out of fingers trying to work it out. Our lives are infinitely enriched by these connections. This is what makes Britain Great. Some are refugees, some are economic migrants. All are human beings. All bring hope for a better life, and the potential for creating it.
And so to the images of a small drowned boy from Kobane, washed up on beach in Bodrum. A little boy whose mother carried him for nine months. Whose father will have held him for the first time with all the hopes and dreams of any ethnic Brit father. And those parents would only have taken that small boy and his brother on such a treacherous journey if they believed the alternatives were worse. Who cannot fail to be moved by such images.
Before they’re immigrants, refugees or migrants, they’re human beings. They’re parents, sons and daughters, siblings, families. They’re friends we’ve not yet met. And they need our help right now.
The nations that extend them a helping hand are not only compassionate, they’re investing in their future.
I hope the UK Government does the right thing. History will judge us on what we do now.