Caitlin Barr on the latest Tory refugee fiasco
The government’s latest migrant ‘solution’, involving the ironic use of a barge in order to “stop the boats”, has shown up just how simultaneously barbaric and disordered its immigration policy is. With all 39 inhabitants removed within days of embarkation due to traces of legionella in the water supply of the Bibby Stockholm, and ongoing fears that the vessel, built to safely house 220 but being earmarked for 500, is a huge fire risk, it is clear that the government do not have human lives in mind, merely a continuation of their divisive and cruel campaign against some of society’s most vulnerable people.
At the time of writing, Diane Abbott has garnered a host of negative attention for a tweet she made (and has since deleted), in response to the common sentiment that immigrants should “f*** off back to where they came from”. Following the news of forty-one migrants dying in a shipwreck off Italy in early August, she tweeted “These migrants have indeed f***ed off. To the bottom of the sea”. However poorly judged and worded the original statement was, was its sentiment false, or just showing up the cruelty of those who see migrants and refugees as sub-human and extraneous, and therefore deserving of any harm they face either on the journey to what they hope to be a safer life in the UK, or back in their home countries?
Those who would willingly place human beings on a barge which the Fire Brigades Union has described as a “potential deathtrap” (The Guardian, Syal and Taylor, 1/8/23), and one report has warned could be a “floating Grenfell” (The Times, Dathan, 31/7/23), harking back to another tragedy the Tories have on their record, are not fit for government. Years of rising anti-immigrant rhetoric, fuelled by the likes of Farage, Lee Anderson, and GB News pundits, has led to this: vulnerable human beings in dangerous accommodation, punished for seeking to be treated with respect and dignity. I’m reminded of lines from a poem by Warsan Shire: “no one leaves home unless/home is the mouth of a shark… you only leave home/when home won’t let you stay”.
The fact remains that there are no safe and legal routes for those seeking asylum (Amnesty International), let alone other types of immigrants. However, the Home Office has also stated that they will not consider asylum claims made by anyone not currently in the UK. This bizarre oxymoron is at the heart of what seems to be the Tory tactic – offer no legal means to enter and punish those desperate enough to risk death in boats and lorries, and in the landing gear of planes. They will be deported, arrested, sent to migrant processing centres which are overcrowded and unsafe, or flown to Rwanda with no connections or hope.
Starmer’s Labour party have offered no respite from this cruelty, saying that the government has “lost control on immigration” (The Guardian, Walker, 24/5/2023) and confirming that Labour would continue housing asylum seekers on barges (as admitted by the shadow minister on Sky News). While Sunak holidayed in California with his wife and children, countless numbers of people embarked on treacherous journeys hoping for a glimpse of a future away from the horrors they had endured in their home nations: and both the government and the opposition turned their backs on them. There is no sucking it up and voting for the lesser of two evils to be done when forty one people die at sea and there is more outrage about a tweet than the loss of human life. It’s time to demand compassionate treatment of those who come to us in desperation, whether that stems from their financial prospects or the risk to their life if they stay.