My beautiful, beautiful, wall

An art installation depicts a child peeking over the border wall in the town of Tecate, Mexico, on the U.S.-Mexico border. (Paul Buck / European Pressphoto Agency)

Or, in our case, not in my back yard

As we near the end of UK Refugee week I am reminded that, a while ago, I read a piece in The Canary, reporting on a powerful address by Patrick Harvie of the Scottish Greens about immigration.  It is fairly short and is certainly worth a look.

Now, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t start with a lame joke, so, I have to point out that the juxtaposition of Scottish and Greens seems odd to me given my stereotypical view of Scots and their attitude to vegetables, but putting that aside, as I suspect many greens still are in Scotland, I think that Harvie really hits the nail right on the head.

He is quoted as saying “I am sick to death of hearing the issue of migration debated only in terms of the economic benefit to us. How much do they pay in? How many benefits do they claim? Migration is a more human story than that. And human lives are about far more than their economic worth.”

“I would love to live in a world, I want to live in a world, in which nobody feels that they’re forced to move. That they have no choice but to escape persecution, threats to their life, economic desperation or environmental collapse.

But in the meantime, I refuse to live, I am not willing to live in a world in which the countries which cause those very problems around the world are the ones throwing up walls and fences and borders to control and demean the lives of others.”

Too bloody right!

You may think that this is idealistic claptrap; that there is no way that this small island could cope with a massive influx of immigrants if we were to open up our borders; that there are not enough jobs to go around; that we can’t afford to provide support, housing and health care for our indigenous population, even without adding to our burdens, and so on.

However, I want to ask where is the empathy?  Do people who espouse this all too commonly accepted view, lack imagination, or do they just not give a shit about the plight of others?

Look at the families trying to get through Mexico and past Trumps “Beautiful, beautiful” wall. Imagine that it was you and yours.  Think about what might have driven you to such a desperate state, what you might be escaping from, why you would willingly put yourself or your children into such a dangerous position?

Look at dishevelled groups of youngsters shivering in inflatable boats trying to cross the hectic shipping lanes of the English Channel and ask what has driven them to this? It must be some casual desire to sneak into our land of plenty where the streets are paved with gold to work for next to bugger all, off the books, for a dodgy gangmaster. Or maybe these young women have a deep desire to be exploited as sex workers in a seedy part of some city or other under god knows whose control. Yeah, that’ll be it.

If I found myself in this state, how would I deal with such difficulties?  How would I want to be treated?  What would I ask of those who sought to corral me, to forcibly turn me round, to drive me back into the arms of my tormenters?  I would rage against the injustice of it all but, more importantly, I would do whatever it takes to make the best of my lot….whatever it takes.

I think Jack Handey put our somewhat ambivalent views of empathy quite neatly: “Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes.”

Well, I guess we’ve all heard that before, but then he went on to say…

“That way when you criticize them, you are a mile away from them and you have their shoes.”

We do something like this. We take a refugee, remove their ability to work and then complain about them sponging off the state.


All this stuff is not just happening elsewhere, it is happening here, and I don’t want it happening in my backyard. I certainly would not want to be treated the way that we treat those seeking asylum or who want to join their families or work here.

Sure, some of them are “economic migrants” – maybe they don’t like living in squalor in cities that our Global Economy has sucked dry of all wealth and natural resources; maybe they don’t like working in sweatshops that provide for our planet-destroying, throw-away, fashion; maybe they can’t cope with being subjects of oppressive regimes propped-up by our governments because it is economically or militarily expedient; maybe their homes are under threat from climate changes brought about by, guess who? My point is that we can’t just wash our hands of the anguish of huge chunks of humanity because it might cause us to suffer some inconvenience. We are up to our necks in it and it just isn’t right.

This is happening in my backyard and I want it to stop.

Having consistently enriched ourselves through all sorts of self-serving measures that we would consider terrible oppression and exploitation if carried out against us by others, we cannot avoid at least some responsibility for much of the World’s present state. Sure, others have made it better or worse, but we were in there getting our two-pennyworth.

If we are determined to worry about economic impact, we could always try letting would-be migrants use their skills by trying to make the best use of their talents – that would allow them some dignity – some chance to walk a mile in their own shoes, and, by giving them an opportunity to make an appropriate contribution to our society, maybe start the process of changing our society’s attitudes to outsiders.

Of course, it’s difficult to make sacrifices, especially for those living from hand to mouth already, but all of us can apply ourselves to changing attitudes (often starting with our own) through listening; speaking out; through political pressure; through social media; through rejecting mean and narrow-minded attitudes, particularly towards those who do not come from here, those who are not like us, or those who are up against it.

Let’s face it, our world has become a pretty small place and our dependence on each other is growing. Between us we now have the capability to pull the plug, to stop the experiment, to close down the action. Our eco-system is so complex that we have no real control over cause and effect. Without our humanity there really is no excuse for us. Maybe we should decide to give up and leave the planet to some other more deserving species, say the ubiquitous cockroach?   Maybe we already have?

Or, we could try to buck the trend and start behaving with humility and humanity.

We could begin by abandoning petty tribalism and by viewing ourselves as part of a world community. We could pay more than lip service to the impact we are having on our planet and to others around the world as we consume far more than a reasonable share of its resources.

At an individual level we could start in a very small way by, say, listening to a neighbour – preferably one that we wouldn’t normally give the time of day to.

I would, however, ask to make a couple of notable exceptions. If you happen to live near Nigel Farage, you should have an exemption. Similarly, if you live at 1599 or 1601 Pennsylvania Avenue, good luck – go build a big, soundproof fence.

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