Home  -  Back Issues  -  The Team  -  Contact Us
     Volume 7 Issue 20 | May 16, 2008 |

  Cover Story
  One Off
  Human Rights
  Food for Thought
  Dhaka Diary
  Book Review

   SWM Home

Food for Thought

Political Games versus Ground Realities

Part III

Farah Ghuznavi

While the UK and the US ponder how to deal with the illegal migrants living and working in their midst (deportation? amnesty?), the Swiss government is focusing on preventive measures to stop them even getting in! Amongst the tactics it has adopted, the current right-wing government in Switzerland has been funding a TV advertising campaign that depicts Africans begging and being arrested in Europe, in an attempt to deter potential illegal immigrants.

In the words of Christoph Blocher of the Swiss People's Party, “We must show Africans that Switzerland is not a paradise”. Mr. Blocher's party gained a degree of notoriety in the recent Swiss elections by featuring an election poster that showed three white sheep standing on a Swiss flag, kicking out a fourth (black) sheep, with the slogan that keeping out immigrants would make Switzerland more secure! Unsurprisingly, the party's election campaign was described by the UN as “openly racist”.

The fact remains that regardless of what Mr. Blocher and his ilk wish to say about Switzerland being no paradise, they will find a sceptical audience for their message in Africa. Hardly strange, when one thinks of cases like Adonis Musati, the 23-year-old Zimbabwean job-seeker who collapsed and died of hunger recently in South Africa, after spending weeks sleeping in a cardboard box near the Home Affairs Refugee Centre, where he had been desperately trying to get a temporary asylum permit that would have allowed him to live and work in South Africa…

But the Swiss government's actions pale in comparison to the recent initiative taken in Italy directed against immigrants in general and Romanian migrants in particular. After the recent murder of an Italian woman, who was attacked and robbed before dying in hospital, there was a ferocious backlash against migrants, because her alleged attacker is a Romanian man. In addition to new legislation aimed at expelling “undesirables”, the official response included an immediate and brutal “search and destroy” expedition into a nearby squatters' camp where many immigrants lived in makeshift shelters.

Under the provisions of the new law, foreigners belonging to EU countries and resident in Italy can be expelled without any trial if they are deemed to be “a threat to public security” by local officials. According to the La Repubblica newspaper, the law will be used to implement the first 5,000 expulsions in the near future. There are those who argue that Italy did not need a new law to deal with a murder case, and could simply have used existing legislation to bring the perpetrators of this crime to justice, but their voices are not being heard.

Sitting amidst the ruins of their homes, it can be little consolation to the immigrant camp-dwellers that it was one of the women belonging to that community who in fact led the police to the body of the dead Italian woman and attempted to tell them the name of her murderer - this despite the fact that she could not speak Italian, so that she had to mime the incident for the authorities. As for the woman herself, she has now been removed from the community after receiving death threats for her attempt to do the right thing. Sadly, many Italians will just not know or care about her plight…

Emotive issues aside, there is little doubt that immigration in large numbers does raise new issues that have to be addressed. For example, in the town of Boston in Lincolnshire, there is general agreement that the influx of migrant workers has led to a business boom. But it has also led to shortages of housing and health facilities, and put pressure on local schools. Clearly, politicians need to come to grips with the real problems, rather than simply demonising foreign workers, as is all too common.

Cultural diversity is no longer welcomed with the enthusiasm of the past.

The extent to which the issue of immigration has become a political hot potato is indicated by the recent discovery of the British Home Secretary's attempts to cover up an embarrassing scandal whereby some illegal immigrants had been given licences by the Security Industry Authority and ended up working for the Metropolitan Police, Whitehall and some airports. Documents were leaked showing that the Home Secretary was aware of the problem involving 5,000 illegal immigrants at least four months before the news became public and the government was held to account for the situation. Reports also appear to indicate that she accepted advice from officials that a news blackout should be imposed on the story “for fear that it could spark negative headlines”.

But fortunately, there are some voices of sanity left in Britain. Jack Dromey, the Labour Party treasurer and a close ally of the current Prime Minister Gordon Brown, has attacked both the Labour and Conservative Party leaderships for conducting a “hysterical” debate about immigration and accused them of “demonising” migrant workers. Such voices are particularly important in a situation where the Prime Minister recently pledged to provide “British jobs for British workers”, a slogan previously used by the far right British National Party and National Front, both notoriously racist organisations!

Mr. Dromey's comments were welcomed by the Labour chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on refugees, who suggested that the Prime Minister should “choose his words more carefully”. “We are in danger of this turning into hysteria and a competition between the parties about who can sound toughest. The debate is being framed by numbers rather than by what migrant workers we need and ensuring they have responsible conditions and rights of work”, he said.

Indeed, there is little doubt that the tone of the debate needs to be raised considerably, and some use of empirical facts and figures would not go amiss either. Everyone seems to have an opinion on immigration, and all too often one is left wishing that they would keep such ill-informed opinions to themselves.

The musician Morrissey recently made an unexpected contribution to the debate by mourning what he considers to be Britain's encroaching multiculturalism and the loss of national identity “England is a memory now… the gates are flooded and anybody can have access to England… Although I don't have anything against people from other countries, the higher the influx… the more the British identity disappears.”

Quite apart from the fact that most of us would argue that the situation is hardly such that “anybody can have access to England”, this also begs the question of how weak British national identity would have to be, in order to be so easily wiped out by migrants who remain a fraction of the total population! It seems particularly ironic that such comments about England being a distant memory should come from a man whose parents were initially Irish immigrants to Manchester (now living in Los Angeles!) and who is himself currently living in Rome…

Nevertheless, the final (highly inappropriate) word on immigration and bad attitudes can be left to Julie Etchingham, a presenter on Sky TV. Commenting on a speech by the Conservative Party leader who said that his party's response to the rising immigrant population was obvious, Ms. Etchingham (who thought she was making a private joke without realising that she was in fact on air), suggested what appeared to be the most obvious solution to her - “Extermination!” How very amusing… Perhaps she should give up her day job and become a stand-up comedian?

All facts, figures and quotes taken from the UK Independent

Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2007