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Social Justice

Here’s what people in Dover really think about UK immigration

The day after a petrol bomb was thrown at a Dover immigration centre, Home Secretary Suella Braverman used the word “invasion” to describe people crossing the English Channel on small boats. We asked the people of Dover what they really thought.

A petrol bomb thrown into an asylum-processing centre in Dover has put immigration back on the agenda and reignited the argument about how the UK treats people coming to its shores.

Conditions in the asylum-processing centre in nearby Manston have been described as “dire” with outbreaks of diphtheria among the 4,000 people, including children, packed into a camp made for 1,000. The centre is supposed to hold people for a maximum of 48 hours but some have been there for weeks.

Hundreds of people have now been moved in coaches from the centre, but it is unclear where they are being taken to and whether they will be housed in hotels or alternative accommodation.

In Westminster, the under fire home secretary, Suella Braverman, has been criticised for calling asylum seekers crossing the Channel an “invasion”. It’s language reminiscent of the far right and National Front, creating fear and hatred from the heart of parliament.

In truth, the UK attracts a fraction of the asylum seekers which other countries accept. Countries like Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan have accepted millions of refugees from the wars and revolutions in the Middle East while net migration to the UK averaged 200,000 a year between 2011 and 2021.

Around 60,000 people are expected to cross the Dover strait in 2022. So The Big Issue went to find out what they thought.

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Neil Wiggins, 55, shop owner

Neil Wiggins and his wife Lorna run an oriental supermarket in Dover. Image: Eliza Pitkin / The Big Issue

“The numbers are, in the big scheme of things, not so many. In the big scheme of things, when you consider how many displaced people there are. As a nation we’re not being very proactive in helping people where they’re at or providing a route for them… we’re not giving them the opportunity to make a claim through a safe route to arrive.

“In the past we’ve seen people seeking asylum turning up at airports. They can’t [do that now]. So they are making their way to an area where they hope they can somehow find a way across the Channel and arrive on our shores and be processed here. My view is is that it’s probably better for the UK to be more proactive and to screen and process people in advance.

“The language [in Westminster] isn’t helping. I can see the point of some of the language is to try and send a strong message to the people smugglers who are essentially criminals, criminal gangs, that it’s not going to work. It’s making the gangs very, very wealthy. And if the government can angle it in such a way as to put the customers off then that undermines them.

“I’d much rather be able to take legal action against the guys running the gangs or running the scam. But some of the language is unhelpful in that it demonises the the people themselves. For the most part, it’s not their fault. They’re in dire straits.

“There are people who are coming from safe but poorer countries, in search of a better life. They might not have a real claim for asylum, but they are searching for a better life.”

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Kay Marsh, 31, migrant engagement at Samphire

Kay Marsh works hard to bring communities together in the area. Image: Eliza Pitkin / The Big Issue

“I’m the community engagement and migrant support coordinator for Samphire. We work within the community, with British and migrant communities, to foster community cohesion. we also support people who have been through immigration and detention.

“One of the main areas of work that I focus on is trying to clear up miscommunication and lies in the media around migration. We have really irresponsible media coverage again, and it gives people a very skewed view on the situation. So we just try our best to spread the facts and clear up information.

“Suella Braverman used the word invasion less than 24 hours after the petrol bomb attack at the Manston immigration centre, which was incredibly irresponsible and things like that go towards feeding these acts of terror. Since this attack on Sunday, we’ve had swastikas spray-painted around the town of Dover, and we believe it’s by local people. The situation can turn very quickly when this language is used.

“Anything coming out of Manston is still fairly hush-hush, but the conditions are extremely inhumane and resources are scarce. It’s reminiscent of the early days of Napier Barracks and it didn’t take long for that to turn to really serious unrest. And that was was 400 people, and they were all adult males. And this, you know, we’ve got women and children in here, 4,000 people, it’s only a matter of time before unrest ensues.

“There’s no question about whether or not the immigration system is broken. It’s about how we fix it. And the government are determined to fall back on these hardline deterrent strategies that they’ve been doing for 12 years now, that have put us in this situation in the first place.

“We need to rethink the entire policies, we need to think our approach to it, we need to look at it in a compassionate way. These are human beings, they need to be treated as such. We need to be giving people safe routes to asylum before ever needing to get in the water.”

Bruce Slater, 58, retired train driver

Bruce is a retired train driver with mixed feelings about asylum seekers. Image: Eliza Pitkin / The Big Issue

“It’s terrible. They’re risking their lives for a better life. Which you can’t really blame them for, some countries are very, very bad. Here, we get help. I’ve worked all my life, I get railway pension and disability so I’m quite lucky. I’ve been homeless, it was the longest three weeks of my life.

“But the government aren’t even looking after their own are they? I think it would be nice to see the government looking after the English, they seem to be forgotten. The government is focused on helping different nationalities not the English. Migrants have taken over as the priority. “

Jamie, 34, motor services

Jamie thinks anyone willing to work should be allowed into the country. Image: Eliza Pitkin / The Big Issue

“I think they should have big boats to help them come over to be honest. I don’t think it is an invasion… if I’ve got nothing and I’m going to come over to a country that’s going to provide me everything, why wouldn’t I?

“There’s a lot of people that shouldn’t come over. But then it’s not necessarily for a good reason. So there’s quite a few Albanians have come over that are then going into drug dealing.

“The conditions [at the Manston migrant centre] are quite shocking. But then, in that same sentence, there are a lot of people that are getting all the benefits. So they’re getting the hotel every day, they’re getting meals.

@thebigissue Come with me to the town of Dover to find out what locals really think about asylum seekers… #fyp#fypシ#politics#suellabraverman#asylum#refugees#news#uknews#comewithme#voxpops#learnontiktok♬ original sound – The Big Issue

“They should be able to work, they should have maybe an apprenticeship or something to go by. I mean, I was a few years back at the job centre. They helped me with everything. But then there’s so many other people that are going to think well, why can’t I go? I’m sorry, but as a white person we get a lot. Someone from a different country, not necessarily white, wouldn’t get as much as I would.

“When they come over here, they should get all the tests, all the doctors and everything so they’re all good health. Because if I was going to go to a different country when I’ve got nothing, I’d like maybe my child to have their teeth sorted or medication if it’s needed.

“They’re human beings. They should be treated as human beings. They come to a different country, not necessarily expecting anything. Something would be nice. A warm bed. A warm meal. A pair of socks for the kids. I mean, come on.”

Shirley Blamey, 65, retired private investigator

. Shirley says there’s enough space for everyone already. Image: Eliza Pitkin / The Big Issue

“I don’t know what the government’s going to do with people in the Manston migrant centre, but we were told they would be there for a maximum of two weeks. I know the sanitary conditions are not good, they can’t even wash there can they? It’s dreadful.

“The government have had a long time to get buildings up and running elsewhere, but because our government are so shit and and they keep changing prime ministers, and then they have long holidays.

“If you look around Dover, especially above the shops, how many empty premises there are – who owns them? The council said years ago they were going to force landlords to free up these buildings, that they would be compulsory bought by the council and turned into accommodation. Look at that one, empty, empty, empty. We’ve certainly got enough land to house them. Look at Scotland, Wales. Build a few more bloody houses.

“And these people, they won’t care if they’re five families to one flat. So long as they can shower, bathe their baby, go to the lavatory. Manston is too over-crowded, it doesn’t suffice at all.

“The Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, she is racist. These people have no where else to go. Their children can’t be educated, bring them on. There might be a little Einstein in there.”

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