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GULCIN OZDEMIR’S parents arrived in Islington in the 1990s. Like thousands of other Kurdish people, they had fled conflict and persecution in Turkey.
Risking their lives to travel across Europe, they came to Britain in the hope of securing a happier and safer life. But their struggle for sanctuary was far from over.
Not long after their arrival, immigration officials threatened to send them back home — a home defined by statelessness and oppression.
As the MP for the area, I tried to make an appeal against their deportation, but our letters, emails and calls fell on deaf ears. On the date of their scheduled deportation, a few of us went round to their flat in Finsbury Park.
Immigration officials were confronted with a human chain — made up of neighbours, friends and anti-racist campaigners — informing them that they had no legal right to detain these people.
Triggering a protracted confrontation with the Home Office, the Ozdemirs eventually won their case. A couple of years later, Gulcin was born.
If the Home Office had their way, Gulcin would have grown up in a war that, between 1984 and 1999, killed more than 40,000 people.
Instead, thanks to the kindness of strangers, Gulcin made a life for herself in Finsbury Park.
In 2019, she was elected as a Labour councillor in Islington. Her principal campaign pledge? To stand up for migrants’ rights.
This week, Gulcin’s story was hidden behind headlines that paint human beings as faceless statistics. Following the news that overall migration had increased by 24 per cent, Rishi Sunak scrambled to appease Tory backbenchers angry at the “unsustainable” levels of migration — by vowing to reduce the number of people coming to this country.
Up until this week, we were told that the problem was “illegal” migration, demonising those who exercise their legal right to claim asylum. Now it’s the opposite problem: all migrants are bad, regardless of whether or not their existence can be criminalised.
Pandering to the mistaken belief that migration to Britain is abnormally high and invariably unpopular, the Prime Minister (just like his predecessors) wilfully ignores the vital contribution that migrants make to this country, whether they came here by choice or compulsion.
As the NHS suffers from a 250,000 shortfall in staffing (adding to 122,000 shortages in social care), Sunak is accelerating his programme of division no matter the economic cost.
Sunak has already demonised striking workers trying to save our NHS, schools and postal service. Now he is showing contempt for those who are coming to this country to fill the record-high levels of job vacancies. He should be careful: he’s running out of people to blame for the socio-economic crises his party created.
As this government shows contempt for those arriving from overseas, we should be making a positive case for immigration. Instead, our politics has been captured by toxicity, dishonesty and fearmongering on all sides.
Accusing Sunak of having “lost control of immigration” is an insult to all those who have enriched our culture, built our economy and made this country a better place. Migrants are not problems to be managed. They are human beings to be loved.
Trying to outflank the Tories on immigration is not just a moral failing. By pushing immigration up the agenda and legitimising the worst fears of the Conservatives’ most loyal base, it is an electoral miscalculation too.
And even if this strategy does prove electorally fruitful, those in power will have to ask themselves the question: are you prepared to keep feeding the beast of xenophobia you have awoken?
Ultimately, the failure to defend a more humane immigration system goes hand in hand with the failure to offer a transformative economic alternative.
It’s not migrants who drive down wages, increase rents or underfund our public services. That’s greedy bosses, rogue landlords and a Conservative government responsible for 13 years of austerity and privatisation.
We have the resources to ensure everyone has access to health, housing and education. We just need the political courage to do what’s necessary — and fight for a redistribution of wealth, ownership and power on a mass scale.
So far, the trade union movement has resisted the Tories’ attempts to pit low-paid workers against each other, and instead actively supported the rights of migrants who experience the greatest marginalisation.
That includes cleaners on the trains, concierge workers in luxury apartments and care workers in the nursing sector. Those taking unprecedented strike action know that the enemy travels by private jet, not migrant dinghy.
They are building an inclusive movement where nobody is left behind. They are defeating a politics of fear and hatred with a politics of friendship and hope.
We need to tell positive stories of immigration that showcase the strength of solidarity. We need to explain how our lives have been enriched by those who happen to have been born elsewhere.
And, above all, we need to recognise migrants as people just like you and me. Because, ultimately, if we’re looking for a reason to build a more dignified immigration system, surely our shared humanity is enough.
Jeremy Corbyn is MP for Islington North. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycorbyn.
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