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Christmas goodwill should extend to migrants and refugees

We should reject our ruling elite’s constant war to see who can take the toughest stance against vulnerable people, says ROGER McKENZIE

THE phrase “goodwill to all men” is almost a reflex during this time of year. It’s what you are apparently supposed to say at Christmastime, even about complete strangers.

This should, of course, include women as well as men but I, at least, have always worked on the basis that it applies to everyone.

The problem, of course, is that it doesn’t. Many of the same people who will be flinging around such seasonal cheer as this simply don’t mean everyone.

Migrants or refugees who are darker than them — because there is a difference to how they are treated — need not think that goodwill will come their way from all quarters. 

People fleeing wars, often started by the nations where they are seeking refuge, do not qualify for this good cheer. That is unless they have enough money to pay for the privilege of being regarded as anything more than a “freeloader.”

Instead, the hysterical and intemperate cry we hear is that these fellow human beings, who are struggling to stay alive on dinghies in the English Channel that are sometimes barely worthy of the name, should be left to drown. 

That not being enough, these same people will angrily add that the public should stop funding the volunteer lifeboats of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. 

The deaths of 27 desperate human beings, all of them someone’s child with families worried about their whereabouts and wellbeing, is an indelible stain on this country and the European Union. However, it is far from the only incident of migrants losing their lives this year.

The United Nations Migration Agency has been able to count 4,470 migrants who have died along migration routes across the world during 2021. 

This goes beyond the 4,236 deaths the agency registered in 2020. As these deaths are often recorded weeks and sometimes months after they occur, and that these figures are likely to be a gross underestimate, the likely figure for 2021 is likely to be far higher. 

On migration routes to and within Europe, the more than 2,720 people who died make it the deadliest year in the region since 2018.

The International Organisation for Migration reports that worldwide there have been around 45,400 deaths recorded since 2014, but again these figures are likely to miss many people who go beneath the radar of any means of being counted.

Behind all these figures are real people with hopes and dreams of a better life. Many find themselves extorted by criminals into making the journey with the promise of a foolproof way of getting to their intended destination. Others use their wits and go by word of mouth to make the journey.

Many from sub-Saharan Africa who manage to reach the north African coast are captured in the Mediterranean Sea by the Libyan authorities and held in atrocious conditions in what can only be described as concentration camps. 

This is the same Libya that was exposed in 2017 when footage showed smugglers selling dozens of African men on an auction block just outside of the capital city, Tripoli. The same Libya that is paid by the European Union and Britain to act as an extended border point. 

These rich nations even outsource their border responsibilities so that they don’t have to dirty their hands with managing the inevitable migration caused by their foreign policies and by the climate emergency of which they are the greatest cause.

The response by the Tory government to this crisis of migration of its making is, unfortunately, not to say “fair cop, guv” and “goodwill to all men” (and women). 

It is, instead, to introduce harsher immigration controls and to make it even harder for people to secure asylum or refugee status in Britain.

Not only do the Tories intend to strip nationality of citizens without notice who were born in Britain, even if this makes those people stateless, they are also criminalising people who help refugees.

I don’t care whether any of the people bringing in these laws are themselves of African or Asian descent. They are part of the ruling elite and are simply looking after their class interests. 

We must show the same ferocious dedication to our class as they show to theirs and this must include on migration and asylum policies.

Those who celebrate the birth of someone who was, arguably, a refugee while criminalising modern-day refugees must be called out for what they are — hypocrites.

Migrants, immigrants and refugees have always had a political target painted on their backs. They have also always known that whatever status or rights are granted at any particular time can, just as easily, be taken away as the winds of political expediency dictate. 

This should not be the third rail of politics. There should not be a constant war to see who can take the toughest stance. Who can ever forget — or forgive — the mugs circulated by the Labour Party in advance of the 2015 general election proclaiming their particular brand of toughness on immigration. 

Instead why don’t we stand up to those who criminalise migrants? How about we take steps to deal with the issues that cause migration — economic exploitation, the legacy of colonialism, militarism and the climate emergency to name but four?

How about we mean it when we say goodwill to all people and that it isn’t just for Christmas?

Roger McKenzie is general secretary of Liberation, a journalist and organiser.

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