Refugees and the poisonous narrative

The UK has been dragging its heels on the refugee crisis for well over a year now. It is almost impossible to know how many refugees have fled the east from Syria and other countries, by land and by sea.  However, even though the number is unclear, what we do know is that the variety is not.

Men, women and children have all escaped war-torn countries and fled across Europe from non-EU countries.  David Cameron made a massive error of judgement in 2015 referring to them as a swarm, and he was heavily criticised for it.

The worrying narrative

But it had been no mistaken comment: it was all part of a worrying developing narrative.  In August 2015 Cameron openly stated that we needed to take greater control over the number of refugees into the UK.  Somewhat cynically, this issue was then mixed into a wider immigration issue, exposing a serious lack of understanding about the very different type of person.  The media tapped into public ignorance of “immigrant,” “refugee” and “asylum seeker” and played right into the hands of characters like Nigel Farage.

It doesn’t feel that long ago that I was learning about the World War Two “evacuees” when I was at school.  Images of children with their gas mask in a box, getting onto trains, waving at their parents as they went on an adventure into the countryside.  They would be safe from the bombs of the Luftwaffe. We learnt about refugees who fled countries because of the dangers of war, and especially the Kindertransport of mainly Jewish children evacuating Germany and Poland.  Again, they were being saved from being rounded up and murdered along with their families.

They were victims, forced from their homes and countries, fleeing genuine terror, oppression and even death. Other countries welcomed them in, playing their part in humanity. They were not described as a burden.

They were not a “swarm.”

A dark cloud of shame

However, the media is moving towards darker levels of cynicism where daemonising “immigration” of any kind seems to be the norm. It’s either done with images such as Farage’s appalling Brexit campaign image (if you don’t know what I mean…Google it…), or clearly biased images of illegal immigrants trying to climb fences. What they neglect to do is differentiate them from those who enter the country legally and honestly.

The dark cloud of blame hangs over immigrants for burdening our NHS, causing the housing crisis, and “stealing all our jobs.” All of which is utter nonsense, of course, because those issues were set to be a problem with natural population growth anyway.

The dagger of prejudice has been twisted again as the Home Office allowed in a group of refugee “children” who were clearly not children.  Theresa May and the Home Office then decided that unless they look over 25 years they should not be subjected to age testing. I wonder if she has accidentally mixed that up with advice given to shop owners on purchases of alcohol and cigarettes.

This has left us with a group of young men who are so clearly not children it is insulting to think they were rounded up in the first place. By refusing to allow any testing of their age, the Home Office have fuelled ideas of conspiracy and stoked the fires of xenophobia against all immigrants.

Moreover, what does it say of the men who have been collected? To take the place of the real children we see in Calais? These are not men of compassion, victims of war and suffering – they are crass and selfish enough to have not been honest about their age.

The poisonous narrative

So the poisonous narrative being drawn out again is one of xenophobia and anti-immigration, perfect for the tabloids to exploit.  Sadly the general public lap up the hyperbole too easily and it permeates their general attitudes to all immigrants.

All immigrants except their favourite local curry house, kebab take away, foreign alcohol dealer, or their expat friends whose house they go to stay in for holidays each summer…