What short memories we have

I think it was around 2001 that I remember the last real crisis of immigration between the borders of  Britain and France. Back then it was the Sangatte refugee camp that came under the spotlight. The press reaction was similar to this year, taking a somewhat militant and xenophobic view of the idea that Britain would be swamped as if the island itself was some kind of overcrowded lifeboat. Think Titanic perhaps. Being an impressionable 12 year old as I was back then I remember being a bit scared of the foreigners.

Well, here we are in 2015 and we've seen a summer of similar stories tinged with anger due to increased police necessity and disrupted holiday plans (never come between an Englishman and his holiday abroad seems to be the message put across). The situation is eeriely similar to 1999-2002 but one thing now seems to ring true in both. Both are directly after brutal and bloody civil wars.

Last time it was the Kosovo conflict and NATO's somewhat pointless (in hindsight) adventure into Afghanistan, with Yugoslavs and Afghans representing a big proportion of the people coming. This time round its the Syrians escaping an increasingly out of control civil war in their homeland.

The point that really stands out is that Britain seems to like to bury its head in the sand when it comes to the reasoning of why and rather focuses on the what. By this I mean that people are singularly focused on the fact that a lot of immigrants are here rather than why.

The why in fact is the saddest thing as many of these people are coming here to escape madness, but as usual we conflate it with people coming to steal our stuff or overwhelm our infrastructure. The second point is a point of genuine concern for any country but we have to escape this view that all immigrants look at England as a land where the streets are paved with gold (spoiler alert: they aren't) and is there to be exploited. We still have the perception of the benefit scrounger hovering around these poor people. The UK isn't even the country with the most European immigration. Countries like Germany, Spain and Italy get hit far worse and it's not surprising considering their proximity to the immigration flow.

Even worse is if one casts their mind back to the 1930s when Britain made a pretty limp effort to help Jews escaping Hitler's persecution. Once again excuses were made and a blind eye turned to the genuine fear and suffering being experienced. Funnily enough papers took a similarly militantly anti view to the people escaping the holocaust to Britain and yet we seem to have conveniently forgotten that and rather have focused on the fact we liberated some concentration camps (a bit too late really).

I find it more frightening that some people older than me have still got the views of the 12 year old me. The news reporting around the time of 1999-2001 was pretty scary to an impressionable pre-teen and it made me paranoid as a result. Obviously younger people who don't remember that will probably feel the same and it could tinge their perception of foreign people as a result. Worse still is that people who do remember last time haven't been able to put two and two together to realise that big influxes of immigration like this only seem to happen after big civil wars.

Britain has to shoulder a bit of blame for the reasons why people are coming here. Afghanistan is pretty self explanatory but Britain is in a way responsible for what has happened in places like Syria and Iraq (Iraq is also pretty self explanatory). A lot of the middle east is as it is today because of our country's imperial ambitions. After the fall of the Ottoman empire, Britain and France carved up the Middle East into the landscape we can more or less see today. Let's be honest it was disastrous in hindsight.

The point being, look at the facts and it's not surprising that we're facing a mess like this today and we should really be helping these people out. True, the best thing to do would be to prevent the situations that allow countries to fall into this state and also a big fight needs to be fought against illegal people trafficking but that doesn't mean we should abandon these obviously desperate people now. You never know whose help the British people might need one day. Let's hope they have as short a memory as us.


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