Economic migrants also need help

Economic migrants also need help
5 min read
04 Aug, 2015
Economic refugees, like many of us, seek better lives for themselves and their families, after their economies have been plundered by international corporations, says Moe Chreif.
Policemen escort migrants near Calais, France, on 3 August 2015 [AFP]
Whether migrants risking their lives to reach mainland Europe or the UK are "genuine refugees" or economic migrants does not change the fact that they are all desperate individuals trying to improve their and their families' living conditions, a basic right for any human being.

Prejudice, hate and xenophobia - knowingly or unknowingly exacerbated by Western media - are skewing the reality of the "migrant crisis," particularly in the UK.

The real crisis is that most migrants need help, not only because their countries are being decimated by war or famine, but also because their economies have been plundered by powerful international corporations with the help of corrupt politicians in their countries.

People are allowed to die in a Bangladeshi factory fire working on our garments, or to receive near nothing in wages to make our phones, as long as they do so somewhere else.

Katie Hopkins, a British tabloid columnist known for her provoking comments, wrote these infamous words in April: "No, I don't care. Show me pictures of coffins, show me bodies floating in water, play violins and show me skinny people looking sad. I still don't care."

Don't be too shocked if so many people feel the same as Hopkins. The British media has predominantly taken two narrow views of this crisis; Immigrants either pose a threat to the UK's asylum system, demography, welfare system, and jobs, or they are all a group of poor and weak individuals who are "not animals," stripping them of their individuality and repeatingly reducing them to a pitiful and general sight.

In a country like the UK, where all employees have the legal right to request flexible working - for example flexible working hours and working from home - why is it so shocking to see people who have been treated almost like slaves in other countries, working for a few dollars a month, trying to jump onto holidaymakers' vehicles in an attempt to cross the English Channel to seek a better life?

There are several reasons why many - not by any means the majority - of migrants prefer to live and work in the UK rather than in mainland Europe.
The UK is rich, its main language is international, its economy is open and doing better, and its immigration laws are rightfully more lenient than those of many other countries.

The UK is rich, its main language is international, its economy is open and doing better, and its immigration laws are rightfully more lenient than those of many other countries - even with the new stricter laws.

Some migrants choose Britain for personal reasons; for example the promise of certain jobs by distant relatives or friends living in the UK. Others have simply sunk into the idea that the grass is always greener on the other side.

The UK has a good track record for welcoming immigrants and granting asylum for political or religious refugees. But let us take a look at the case of a tiny country such as Lebanon, a developing country whose native population is just over 4 million people.

Lebanon hosts more than one and a half million refugees. This is almost equal to half its population. Most of the refugees are from Syria whose crisis had been, arguably, partially created by the West. The Lebanese are being asked to find shelter for and feed the refugees with some help from the international community.

Very well. Let's now turn our focus to what is happening in Britain, a rich country, which according to the United Nations Higher Council for Refugees (UNHCR) has at the end of 2014 a population of refugees, pending asylum cases and stateless persons of just 0.24 percent of the population.

Under a new immigration bill introduced in Britain, landlords will be allowed to evict illegal immigrants from their rented properties without a court order and those who fail to check the immigration status of tenants will be fined or even imprisoned for up to five years. This is only one of the bizarre ways that the UK is trying to make life difficult for illegal immigrants in the country.
Like many of us, migrants are people with dreams who want to work hard for a better life.

How does that compare?

Other countries in the European Union have welcomed many more refugees into their countries than the UK, particularly from Syria. In the past four years, Germany has received ten times the number of refugees as the UK according the UNHCR. Sweden comes second, not very much behind Germany.

Firms like Serco and scandal-hit G4S have been employed to look after immigration detainees. However, reports say that these firms have been exploiting them and paying them as little as what is equal to $1.5 an hour for otherwise minimum wage ($10/hour) jobs, saving millions. These detainees would have been happy to be set free to earn the minimum wage and support their families.

These people shouldn't be in prison. They should be helped. Like many of us, migrants are people with dreams who want to work hard for a better life. These people will find a way to enter the UK and other rich countries and many of them will be economic migrants. So be it.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.