Poynted remarks

IssueApril - May 2023
Comment by Claire Poyner

You can’t really know a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. So they say.

There was this TV show (called Backstrom) where a detective would try to imagine what a perpetrator or a victim might be thinking, in order to get to the solution. He’d say: ‘I’m a 16-year-old drop-out and have just been to see the local drug-dealer.…’

So. You’re a 15-year-old living in Albania. Your parents are not well-off, dad drives a taxi and mum takes in washing. Grandma needs meds so everyone must pull their weight to bring in more income. You think: ‘I know someone who sells drugs or guns, I’ll get some cash doing a couple of jobs for them.’

Of course, it all goes wrong because Mr Big wants you to do more and more and finally they come after you and threaten the whole family. So mum takes you off to Tirana to get you a passport and the proper papers to apply for refugee status in the UK since mum’s brother lives there and can help.

But. There’s no such place in Tirana. So the parents pay a smuggler to take you to the UK.

You’re a young man living in Afghanistan. The Taliban come calling. They want you to join up and have a job for you.… Your mum is scared witless but, no worries, she takes you off to Kabul to get the necessary documents to go to the UK (or France, or Germany…) and before you know it, you have a passport and a document to say you’re applying for refugee status and can get on a plane and all is fine and dandy.

But. There’s no such place in Kabul.

You’re a young person in Syria. Well, it’s a war zone isn’t it but, never mind, you obviously can get to Damascus and apply for the necessary documents to come to the UK (or France, or Germany…) and arrive ‘legally’. Can’t you?

You’re a father of a family in Eritrea. Your grandpa left you a bit of money so you think: ‘I am taking the family to a safer place where the children can go to school and I can earn a living.’ So you grab your passports and leave. But, of course, you don’t have passports because why would you? But you can pay a smuggler to get the family out.

You’re a journalist who has just written something unflattering about the government in a country with little regard for human rights. Iran, maybe, or Saudi Arabia. You’ve been advised to leave the country or you’ll end up in jail – or just disappear. So you apply for a passport because you’ve never had one before, never needed one. And the government is just going to issue you a passport? Dream on!

One final story. There are no job opportunities in your country for unqualified but enthusiastic youth (Türkiye maybe?), so you send your eldest son off to where you assume jobs are easy to come by and your son can send money back to support the family.

These are the ‘economic migrants’ which we’ve heard so much about. The assumption is that most of the ‘migrants’ arriving in small boats are ‘economic migrants’ and therefore not worthy of any help.

In the 1920s, a couple of my grandma’s brothers became ‘economic migrants’ in Australia. £10 Poms. In the 1970s, quite a few British people migrated to places where there were more jobs going. Auf Wiedershen, Pet, remember? But it’s OK if Brits become economic migrants, isn’t it?

Anyway. I am hoping I really don’t need to ask PN readers to imagine the many varied reasons people leave their own countries and seek asylum in European countries.

I hope most readers will know that the vast majority of the world’s refugees do in fact get to the nearest safe country (Jordan for example) and that’s as far as they go. Jordan hosts the second-highest share of refugees per capita in the world. There are over 3.7 million refugees in Jordan. You might ask yourself why the ‘nearest safe country’ should take in all the refugees from a war zone.

You will know that the UK take in far fewer refugees per capita than France, Spain, Italy or Germany. You will know that asylum-seekers, or economic migrants, do not receive a house and a free mobile phone on arrival. Oh, and you’ll also realise that possession of a mobile phone does not mean that a person is not destitute.

I ask you, reader, what you do in any of these scenarios?

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