Author: DIA CHAKRAVARTY
I was 11 years old the first time our home in Bangladesh was bombed by Islamic fundamentalists. Policemen – who had escorted the fanatics shouting “death to kafirs (infidels)” as they marched up to our home – stood by and watched. It was evident that they had the government’s blessing and that the attack would be carried out not only with complete impunity but with the active encouragement of the very people whose job it was to protect law-abiding citizens like my parents.
If the hurled fire bombs failed to burn down the bungalow along with its inhabitants, and the boulders showered at it failed to break down the doors, then that would be down to sheer luck. The administration in charge wasn’t going to do a thing to stop a family from being lynched or burned alive. But luck did favour us. We survived that day.
It transpired that, in the aftermath of the bombing, some people had taken photographs of our visibly damaged home and presented the pictures as evidence of persecution against themselves in order to successfully gain asylum in the West. In pre-Google Earth days, it would’ve been fairly easy to get away with.
Outrageous? Perhaps. Certainly deceitful. But people living under regimes which show little regard for the rule of law and human rights are desperate to leave in search of a safer, better life. That is basic human nature, and without such an instinct we may well have become extinct as a species.
Nevertheless, as politicians debate how to handle the migrants who have crossed over to the UK from France on dinghies and small boats, there is still an important distinction to be made between refugees fleeing targeted persecution (because of their race, religion, sexual orientation or politics, for example) or a war zone and those who have had the opportunity to seek asylum in a Western country, but believe that a better life awaits them across the Channel. There is an important distinction, too, between illegal and legal migration.
If we don’t make these distinctions, then we not only encourage people smugglers to continue to put lives at risk (how quickly we’ve forgotten the heart-wrenching image of the three-year old Alan Kurdi lying listless on the Turkish shore), but we send out the message to all those who are desperately trying to meet the very stringent criteria set by our own authorities to enter the country legally that playing by the rules is for mugs. That if they pay the smugglers, instead of paying the crippling, ever-increasing visa fees to the British Embassy, they can bypass the arduous, lengthy process allowing them the right to call this country their own.
And for those who claim that the world wants nothing to do with an apparently xenophobic, economically suicidal, Brexit Britain, as opposed to the paradise of tolerance and prosperity that the EU supposedly is, it is worth noting that people from across the world would risk their lives to come and set up home on these very isles, shunning Merkel’s Germany and Macron’s France. The claim that it is just our language that attracts them is ridiculous – ease of speaking English can never make up for racism.
The attraction lies in our reputation as an open nation in which where you come from doesn’t determine how far you go.