Opinion: “Anti refugee and immigrant rhetoric is a societal disease that needs to be cured”


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By Sakib Shah, Shottobani.com

For a frightening amount of time now, the British people have espoused anti-immigration sentiments which encapsulate islamophobia, racism and xenophobia, alongside other forms of hatred. To simplify, this new wave of hostility has been perpetuated by politicians and ring-wing media outlets and has been heavily bolstered by the toxic Brexit campaign which blamed much of our nation’s shortcomings on immigrants. The rise of UKIP, Britain leaving the EU and Theresa May’s refusal to properly repudiate Donald Trump’s Travel Ban are all symptoms of a long term anti-immigration societal disease.

Syrian refugees arrive on the shores of Lesbos island
Syrian refugees arrive on the shores of Lesbos island
Behind this way of thinking and the ease through which institutions and individuals can propagate hatred, I believe is a lack of empathy and understanding. Why would anyone want to leave their home? The familiarity of their neighbourhood, the togetherness of their community and the warmth of their loving family? Why do immigrants and refugees want to come to ‘our’ country?
Well, I acknowledge that every case is an individual one, but generally, the move is motivated by the desire to reach ‘freedom’ in other words safety and security and perhaps attain economic prosperity. Can we truly hate someone for wanting safety and security? Can we despise people who are chasing after economic prosperity, particularly when it is only rational to want to make and have money under capitalism? The very system, we the West spent decades attempting to disseminate around the world and hold so close to our hearts?
Young refugee girl being passed through barbed wire
Young refugee girl being passed through barbed wire 

How can we possibly be angry at people who are willing to risk everything to reach this country? Refugees fleeing war zones often make a perilous journey, putting their lives in danger to reach safety whilst immigrants, whose move may be motivated by economic reasons, often take up the burden of leaving the comfort of their poor yet happy home to travel to an alien country in the hopes of making money, not even to spend on themselves, but to send back to their families. I fail to see anything more noble than working long hours and in poor conditions, in an unfamiliar part of the world for the benefit of one’s family as is done by many immigrants here in the UK and across Europe. I question whether I, and a number of my fellow Britons would be brave enough or strong enough to do the same.

Police officer raises baton at migrants to prevent entrance to Macedonia at Greece border
Police officer raises baton at migrants to prevent entrance to Macedonia at Greece border
My parents are foster carers and very recently we welcomed a refugee into our home as a new member of the family. We will call him Abu for legal reasons. Abu barely speaks any English and is around 15 years old. A few days after his arrival he began to describe to me, through his limited understanding of English and with the help of Google translate, his journey to the UK. The steps he took walking, the many miles of running nor the time he spent on poor quality dinghies shocked me as much as the time he spent with trucks. I say with trucks because he was not always inside these large vehicles, but something on the roof and on occasions, beneath them. Despite the language barrier and the clear bouts of misunderstanding throughout our conversation, no barrier could prevent me seeing the true pain and suffering in this young child’s eyes.
Asylum seekers wait outside a train station in Budapest, Hungary
Asylum seekers wait outside a train station in Budapest, Hungary
One particular night, Abu’s anguish was clearly displayed. He came downstairs from his room and walked out of the house. Abu vanished for a few hours that night and our repeated attempts at finding him proved fruitless. On the last occasion that I stepped outside my house, I found Abu sitting curled up on the floor in front of my car, tears gushing from his face. We brought him inside and after a warm cup of tea, the reason for his dismay came out. His best friend who we’ll call Jameel, was en route London. He didn’t make it. Jameel was brutally crushed to death by the very truck that was supposed to carry him to ‘freedom’.
The perilous journey, the departure from home, the farewell to family, the proximity to death, all to what end? To be hated, abused, demonised and blamed for other people’s misfortunes. To live life in what is supposedly a new home, in fear and upset. This shouldn’t be the Britain we know. Whilst our Government and better off nations must assist in international development and welcome larger numbers of refugees and immigrants into their countries, we need to see a shift in opinion on immigration on a grassroots level. Welcoming refugees and immigrants into our home can’t solely be motivated by what we can gain from having them, but rather, we must be motivated by the fact that we are human beings, and so are they.
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