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Reframing the debate on asylum and refugees

4:07 pm - June 16th 2008

by Jess McCabe    

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In case you didn’t know, Refugee Week starts today. While The Guardian has been doing an excellent job of countering the anti-immigrant bias in the media, this excerpt from Mark Haddon’s piece on visiting the Migrant Resources Centre in Victoria, London particularly drives home for me how far we have slipped in this country:

How did we end up treating human beings in this way?

Mario, the MRC’s legal adviser, came to the UK in 1978, with his wife and sister-in-law, after escaping from Colombia, where the government had 68,000 of its opponents behind bars. They were terrified and knew nothing about asylum law. All the immigration officials who dealt with their claim, however, were helpful, courteous and surprisingly knowledgeable about Colombian politics. The three of them were granted temporary admission. The following year they were given full refugee status. ‘I can only be grateful to the UK for the protection offered to me and my family during those difficult days… After nearly 30 years here, I have two children and one granddaughter. We feel British. When I come back to the UK after visiting my elderly parents I always feel as if I am coming home.’

Mario’s is not an isolated case. I’ve spoken to a number of refugees who arrived in the UK 10, 15, 20 years ago. Most were impressed and surprised by the warmth of the welcome they received, and none of them went through the demeaning experiences that many of today’s asylum seekers go through.

What happened during those intervening years? Of course, there has always been racism and intolerance, but only in recent times have these sentiments been allowed to drive and shape official government policy.

Let’s see if the right-wing press will take a one-week amnesty, at least, from their racist/xenophobic anti-immigrant reporting. (Recent headlines: “Has mass immigration wrecked Britain?”, “Do you think immigration is to blame for rise in violent crime?”, and a classic – “Immigration out of control”. Meanwhile last week the Daily Mail served up this dehumanising headling: “Father of four finds 12-strong colony of illegal immigrants living in his LOFT”.)

Incidentally, any UK readers seeking inspiration on this issue from across the Atlantic could do worse than checking out the fairly recently-launched blog The Sanctuary.

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About the author
Jess is editor of the online magazine The F-Word.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Equality ,Media ,Race relations

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Reader comments

The Guardian in ‘excellent job’ comment shock!

It’s a shame that this article conflates the issues faced by immigrants with those of refugees.

It also continues to be to the detriment of debate that neither the pro or anti-foreigner camps are able to separate the facts from their political sympathies by understanding how political issues are transported along with the people.

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