Interesting to read an old headline of a Daily Express story about the arrival to Britain of Uganda Asians, booted out of their country by the dictator Idi Amin. Right wing, anti-immigration politicians like Enoch Powell seized on it, making the case they should not be allowed to come here. After all, their skin was a different colour. Among their number, penniless and with no jobs to go to, were Anjana and Sushil Patel. They later had a daughter called Priti.
This would be the same Priti Patel who is in the middle of a hardline populist attack on desperate refugees who are trying to come to this country to escape all manner of horrors, from starvation to genocide and so much in between. I’m pretty sure that most if not all of them do not have jobs to go to on the not unreasonable grounds that they have nothing. Given half a chance, Patel would doubtless launch nuclear weapons on their flimsy, overcrowded rubber boats if she thought there might be a few votes in it. They are mostly people of colour. Like Patel.
In broken and divided Britain, I am guessing that my attitude to refugees is slightly more welcoming than that of Patel. I am not bothered that they did not seek asylum in the first country they reached, but then, despite my limited grasp of geography, I think there are other safe countries slightly nearer to Uganda and Britain. If Patel’s parents had followed the advice their daughter now dispenses, we might not have such a horrible little person as home secretary.
It’s almost a compliment that the refugees actually want to come here, rather than any of the other places they come through or fly over. Our reputation, or at least our past reputation, for offering safe havens to displaced people was something to be proud of. Just look at how we acted in the Second World War when we offered the hand of friendship to Jews, escaping the concentration camps of Adolf Hitler. I don’t see how that is any different today.
With the country reeling from COVID-19, an imminent economic collapse followed by a hard no deal departure from the EU transition period at the end of the year, I can’t help thinking this sudden interest in desperate migrants trying to cross the English Channel is a dead cat story to distract us from the catastrophe unfolding in post Brexit Britain. When we should be angry about the government’s disastrous mishandling of a virus that has killed something like 70,000 people and where mass unemployment is about to overwhelm the country, let’s blame a couple of hundred people fleeing persecution in search of a better life.