Britain and the flight from tyranny.
Now, this is a topic that is not everybody's cup of tea. So, if it is not your usual brand of Vodka, please turn away now.
I do not know who I'm writing this for. As an African in the diaspora, this is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. It affects each one of us that were not born in this country but have become a part of the fabric of society and somehow forgotten about our fellow brothers and sisters in the motherland following in our footsteps for a better life.
Asylum seekers have to endure many humiliations. They share lodgings with arbitrary companions, and have nothing in common - sometimes not even a language - other than flight from persecution. The highly qualified and the political dissident coexist with the peasant and the petty criminal.
Some wish to study and prepare for a career in Britain, while others only drink and watch game shows. Overcrowding, shared beds, the distinctive male odour of cramped humanity, a pinched, undernourished existence. Yet as one man said, "At least we are not dead - unlike friends tortured with electricity, raped with metal rods or made to line up in the grey dawn to be shot over the shallow grave they had been forced to dig in advance."
Refugees are people who risk arrest, prison and death. With stolen identities, aliases, forged papers and counterfeit documents that are their lifeline some people say they scarcely know any longer who they are. The expenditure of lifesavings to save a life: who can blame either desperate people who have simply challenged a tyranny, or those making risky but lucrative livelihood out of their plight?
But their relief at being in a secure place can easily be subverted by their first encounters with bureaucracy when they get to Britain.
Most say they encounter suspicion from employees of the Border and Immigration Services. Those telling the truth find themselves greeted with scepticism, and the assumption that they are lying. To those falsely accused, beaten and imprisoned, this aggravates from the outset the sense of rejection, which can be reinforced by the often interminable wait for recognition that they are here as involuntary visitors, refugees, in need of the kind of solace and support that too often remain elusive.
Not until they have overcome these obstacles will they learn about another Britain of kindliness and fellow-feeling, an acceptance that doesn't question the memories or horror and loss, an enfolding assurance that they are indeed at last safe.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the refugee and the fortress...
Now, I would like to get responses to the next question which provides a quandary to those adhering to easy morality and clear distinctions between right and wrong.
Should people-smugglers, those venal rescuers, be punished for taking advantage of despair, or lauded for their humanitarian function?