Opinion

Immigration is inevitable. Let’s make it work

The only way to deal with immigration is to embrace it and make clear the positive potential for us all

The child-friendly murals brightening up the Kent Intake Unit, before the Home Office ordered they were painted over Image: HM Inspectorate of Prisons

A little over a week ago the Dutch government collapsed. I know I have you hooked with that zinger of an opening. Which means that Mark Rutte, one of Europe’s longest serving PMs, is on his way out. Rutte is the tall, urbane figure who became familiar during the Brexit negotiation years, as news footage featured him smiling from one gilded political antechamber to another, always suggesting a positive outcome in the offing.  

It was immigration that did for his coalition. The right-wing of the four-party grouping wanted to heavily limit immigration, citing overcrowded migration centres. Rutte didn’t want to, and so the government toppled. In a curious piece of political symmetry, the only European leader to last longer is the less than immigrant-embracing Kremlin favourite, Orbán of Hungary. 

Around the same time as the shenanigans in The Hague, the UK government were leading their own hardline anti-immigrant dance. It started with Home Secretary Suella Braverman telling the country that the “system is rigged against the British people” because appeal court judges found the Rwanda removal policy was not legal. That’s the home secretary stoking a sense of victimhood based on a nebulous enemy who have it in for ALL OF US. 

Not enough? Robert Jenrick, the minister of immigration, upped the tempo. Jenrick decided a couple of Mickey Mouse cartoons on the wall of a children’s asylum reception centre were too welcoming, so, charging in on a steed of trusty white paint, he gave those kids what for and painted over the walls. This was not “a welcome centre”, dontcha know!  

What did you do at work today, dear? Well, there was this dangerous wall in a place where confused, maybe scared, unaccompanied children far from their homes are brought… 

That’s now his legacy. 

It’s largely performative in Westminster at present. The Rwandan situation will drag through the courts for months, allowing the government to say, we’re trying to take back control, but THEY won’t let us. We’re trying to protect you from the baddies. Look, look at the Illegal Migration Bill. But not too closely. 

This incoherent approach, the cracks in the Dutch system and the opportunity that the French extreme right took to blame immigration for the unrest in the banlieues, right across France, in the wake of the killing by police in the outskirts of Paris of Nahel Merzouk, a non-white kid, show how alive and easily manipulated the issue of immigration is. And that’s just three examples in three major European nations. 

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The siege mentality approach does not work. It’s the easiest thing to point and say NO. But it was never going to work. We need a major European-wide intervention from politicians with real guts and vision. The reality of mass movement of people and immigration is that it is only going to grow – due to violent conflict, climate change and impoverishment. The only way to deal with it is to embrace it and make clear the positive potential, rather than waste energy and money on malignant suspicion. You can’t beat the weather.  

There has to be an international push to make it clear that immigrants are not arriving in nations to take, but to give and enrich. Rather than appeasing those who talk nonsense about nasty others, make the case for the potential people bring, for the empty jobs they can fill, for the communities they can be part of and rebuild. It’s easy for these voices to say Britain is full, because hotels and asylum centres near the Kent coast are full. Move people around. Find out what they’re trained for, disperse them quickly, get them working. Yes, people will want to come, but if we do things right here, everyone can benefit for a while. And if there is proper international work, then they can go back. The UN says most refugees want to go home eventually. We need to find a way to offer them one until they’re ready. 

Paul McNamee is editor of the Big IssueRead more of his columns here. Follow him on Twitter

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