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Monday 25 October 2010

Refugee And The Fortress.

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?


Unknown said...

Your question itself indicates that there are indeed 2 types of "smugglers". How do we determine between the two?

I have a tale to tell you. When I was a little one my mum hired an "aya" to look after me. She was like my second mum! She was plump and cozy and full of stories! It turns out that she was a refugee from Uganda. Those days were the aftermath of Amin.

One day some spiteful person sold us out and the "police" came in the night and forcefully took her away. I was terrified. I cried. I wailed. Mum was crying and begging. They literally dragged her away and I never saw her again.

That was my 1st encounter with this subject of refugees.

After that, my mum would continue to take in refugees and freedom fighters up until the day she died. My home was like a camp!

The Photodiarist said...

Your commentary is powerful. Really moved me.

Connie Staccato said...

It's a complicated question. There are people smugglers who are bringing people to find employement and a new life, and there are people smugglers selling people into slavery.

The U.S. also struggles with this issue. I would like to see more Americans remember that, apart from our native peoples and the people kidnapped and brought here as slaves, we are ALL refugees or the children of refugees. We need to remember this and pass on our good fortune with intelligence and compassion.

Beautifully written.

Nadine2point0 said...

So, so sad and real. Very well written.
Rescuing, helping, being kind... such subjective terms. Hard to believe these people-smugglers are driven by compassion and mercy when we are educated now on the 'end results'
Underemployed stole my words - we are all refugees and ultimately visitors here in our different countries.
I have recently traced my paternal lineage to the 1500's in England...a Francis Smythe. Between then and now, many skeletons accumulated in the proverbial closet including taking land from Native Americans in Upper New York in the 1600s. Yikes.
Then we have on my mother's side a sketchy genealogy of Germans who faced the choice of assimilation or death to survive the horrible historic events every century in their country. The rebels of the family became gypsies and scattered to Russia not before taking some of the children of relatives without permission. Ugh.
I hope these refugees who have faced rejection/skepticism and racism I assume, keep the faith that the officials do not represent the general population.

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