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