Refugees: Reality and the rhetoric

THE Isle of Portland is a magical place, the most southerly point of the Jurassic Coast. Its scenery makes it an explorer’s paradise. Once, on a clifftop path, I saw peregrine falcons swooping down from the sky. Visitors flock to Portland Bill, where there are three lighthouses and a splendid view of the sea.

Yet the beauty masks poverty and deprivation. Since the closure of Portland Dockyard, well paid and high skilled jobs are scarce. Professor Marfleet and Jenny Lennon-Wood’s recent report ‘Forgotten Towns’, highlights the poverty that blights not just Portland, but also Weymouth. In 2017, average weekly wages in Weymouth and Portland were the lowest in the country.

A few weeks ago, Dorset councillors rejected the proposal to build a waste incinerator on the island. The incinerator would have called into question the World Heritage Status of the Jurassic Coast. Natural England warned of air pollution harming plants and wildlife.

Campaigners won their battle to preserve the beauty of their island – and to ensure the health of the many residents who would have to live cheek by jowl with the incinerator. Yet Powerfuel, the company behind the proposal, intends to appeal. Giles Frampton of Powerfuel – bearing the name of the magistrate who bought the Tolpuddle Martyrs to trial – is seeking damages.

And now the island faces another challenge – the decision made by the Government to moor a barge in Portland Port which would house up to 500 male asylum seekers.
Amnesty International has condemned the Government’s failure to open sufficient safe and legal routes for refugees driven from their homes by war, threat of torture and arbitrary arrest – and now, increasingly, by the effects of climate change.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman speaks of ‘stopping the invasion on our southern coast’ – making use of the language of extremist groups. I was reminded of a 2019 photograph in The Sun, claiming to depict ‘The Moment Migrants Storm Kent Beaches’.

Yet the UK – according to Government figures – is below the EU average when it comes to the number of asylum applications being made. In 2021, there were nine asylum applications made for every 10,000 people living in the UK, compared to 14 applications made across the EU. In Germany, there were 22.9 applications made for every 10,000 people, in France 17.8 – and highest of all in Cyprus, with 153.

The reality is far different from the shameful rhetoric. And Portland will be face-to-face with the consequences of that rhetoric.

Portland Labour councillor Carralyn Parke’s words, as reported in The Guardian, ring true: “If they do house these people here, our council will treat them with love and respect, but it’s disgraceful that in the 21st century the Government is thinking about housing asylum seekers on a barge”.

All credit to Dorset Stand Up to Racism – its message is clear: ‘Say no to camps, prisons, or barges – refugees welcome here’. We must show our humanity – open our hearts.

Chair, Swanage & Rural Purbeck Labour Party

One Comment

  1. jane doe Reply

    It is so easy to say ‘Refugees welcome here’, so easy to stand with placards. i am not minimising the sentiments at all. they are important but I was forced into abject, terrorising homelessness by Labour and SNP and Conservative and Liberal Democrat and Green politicians. For almost 11 years now I have been deprived of my lawfully owned home in Scotland and my belongings, my clothing, my everything. The Police looked on and tried to take me away – mental health legislation misuse – ‘seizure’ -more than once. Unutterably terrifying. But the UK does not create refugees, asylum seekers. Well, not officially. I was told by Nuns in Cambridge I needed a psychiatric hospital and that everyone would laugh at me if I tried to ask for political protection from another country. i still courageously and humiliatingly tried.
    My life has long been threatened in the UK. i cannot even get medical care I need nor prescriptions I need for high blood pressure etc. despite being UK born of British parentage.
    Most tragically of all for me, my brother and our father both died as a result of British people’s persecution and denial of human rights. In the end it is people that make up a country and it is soul scouring to claim British ‘values’ are among the best in the world. What values are these that allowed GRENFELL TOWER, a tragedy deeply close to me, as one of the professionals involved is involved in my own loss of home and all that that entails for a person. What values are these that made sure WINDRUSH crushing cruelties could take place hidden in plain sight of so many people with statutory duties not to cause harm. What values are these that obstructed HILLSBOROUGH victims and campaigners and ORGREAVE victims and campaigners for years and years continuing. What values are these that allowed so many to die in NHS scandal upon scandal very much including known to be likely contaminated blood products. what values are these that have so cruelly denied Chagos Islanders their island homes – for years. They may be British values but not in my name please.
    every day I see my fellow homeless discarded on the streets of London, the tourists walking on by, trundling their suitcases and their shopping bags from luxury stores.
    There are many many kindly people who show their concern but it is never those with ultimate power. Nor the Journalists sadly. The journalists and Human Rights charities / lawyers I tried so hard and humiliatingly to contact have instead mocked me and treated me as a madwoman.
    How do Rights come into being? How are Rights protected? for every person / creature equally on earth? By Courage, extraordinary courage, by sacrifice of life as you know it, and through vigilance. Rights and laws – against violence against anyone, violence against women – written on paper mean absolutely nothing. The brave Mrs Litvinenko [and her son] soon understood this. Even in desperate shock and grief, as does the brave Mrs Assange. and as my continuing suffering demonstrates.
    I have tried to be kindly towards refugees housed where other people are just left on the streets. Or inside railway stations, ‘sleeping’ on hard benches but mostly kindly tolerated by the staff. For months. on end. i am not jealous but I am saddened. A migrant was shocked at my own story. I could only tell him the truth – there are no ultimately safe countries, my friend. There are only safe people. Who may care about you and fight for you.

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