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Britain is exploiting refugees to fuel right-wing nationalism

  • Nafees Mahmud
  • 29 Nov 2021

Anti-refugee rhetoric is a useful distraction from government corruption and incompetence.

British Home Secretary Priti Patel has suggested pushing migrant boats back to France using jet skis and wave machines, even though it would be in violation of international law. ( Leon Neal / Pool via AP )

What would you do if you’d been exposed for corruption and making false promises, were declining in popularity, and looked utterly incompetent, arrogant, and weak?

If you were the right-wing, nationalist, British Conservative government you’d fabricate a ‘crisis’ out of people doing what you’d think capitalists like them ordinarily approve of: seeking a better life for oneself. 

The problem is, of course, that the people doing this happen to be from poorer countries and have darker complexions. Therefore, according to the government, they are not human beings escaping poverty and persecution; rather, they are scroungers looking for a free ride and to burden our public services — “not genuine asylum seekers” as the home secretary has falsely claimed. 

The government’s strategy is simple: when all else fails, appeal to a ‘patriotic duty´ to ‘protect borders’. Sensationalist and disproportionate media coverage from their right-wing, nationalist accomplices in newspapers like The Sun, Express and Daily Mail ensure the minds of the masses are sufficiently hypnotised to believe migration is the number one threat facing the country.

The government wants to protect our borders from what, exactly? Yes, this year there has been a four-fold increase in the number of people entering the UK via the English Channel, bringing the total up to 25,000. But let’s put that number in perspective. This is a country of 67 million, where there are now one million job vacancies, a labour shortage and more people leaving than coming to the country. We need more people.

Yet in Britain if you aren’t rich or white (preferably both) you aren’t considered a person. So it’s easy to regain support no matter how corrupt and incompetent you are by demonising and rejecting refugees of colour.

The real crisis

People crossing the English Channel is not a ‘crisis’. What is, though, is the refusal to help them; also, the fabrication of a narrative that there is no space for them and they must be sent back to France, a ‘safe’ country. 

France is not a safe country for refugees. At the hands of the police they face harassment, abuse, confiscation of meagre possessions, destruction of tents and obstruction of humanitarian assistance — followed by denial from the state that this is even happening.

While the UK refuses to open up legal, safe routes for refugees, we see a growing number of them dying while crossing the water. Yet there’s still no let up in the government’s callous narrative. For Conservatives, the more hostile to refugees they can be, the more they will gain support by right-wing nationalists who are willing to ignore all their other failures. This is why over the last few months we’ve seen unhelpful and inhumane policies proposed — as well as actions taken — for dealing with the situation.

Home Secretary Priti Patel wants to push migrant boats back to France using jet skis and wave machines. The government’s own lawyers have told her this contravenes international maritime law. She insists it will go ahead. 

Britain has just sent troops to Poland's border with Belarus out of fear some migrants will attempt to enter the UK. Some of these are Yazidi refugees whose lives were shattered by Daesh and have since been living in Iraqi refugee tents recently affected by devastating fires

The UK recognised a desperate need to help them when they were attacked by Daesh in Iraq in 2014 — an attack regarded as a genocide. It began a military operation in northern Iraq  (which still continues). While the UK was willing to spend money on air strikes to help Yazidis in 2014, now, strangely,  it is spending money to obstruct them. The troops it has sent to Poland are now said to be supplying “engineering support”, i.e. building fences and walls to deny some of the world’s most vulnerable a chance of a better life. 

Then, creeping higher up the fascist scale, there has been talk of imitating the Australian policy of detaining asylum seekers in offshore processing centres — Albania and the Falklands have been suggested — which the UN and International Criminal Court say violate human rights and amount to torture. One MP said international law should be overridden because the UK is a "sovereign country”.

In other words, Conservative MPs are saying Britain should scrap its human rights laws to justify such extreme means of keeping refugees out. Most of the MPs calling for such drastic measures represent constituencies dominated by Brexit-supporting nationalists. 

If the demonisation of migration continues in both media and government, and once again starts dominating the public discourse — as it did in the run up to the Brexit vote in 2016 — we will, as we saw then, see an increase in racism. The far-right politician Nigel Farage has already said he’s considering a return to politics.

The fact is Britain is a country that loves shooting itself in the foot. We’re not even a full year on from leaving the EU and the failures of Brexit have proven this, from the failure to “take control of our own borders” and attract some of the world’s highest achievers to take up citizenship, to the inability to secure a fishing deal with the EU that benefits British fishermen. Then there are the food shortages.

Britain is also shooting itself in the foot by not accepting refugees. Those coming here can be given jobs, training and support, which would help rebalance an economy hit hard by Covid-19.  There are many examples of recent refugees creating successful businesses here, including Dama Cheese, a brand of halloumi set up by Syrian refugee Razan Alsous.

But the narrow-minded, short-sighted government doesn’t care about the wellbeing of refugees, nor even the prosperity of the country. It cares about staying in power while abusing that power.

For the government, the more asylum seekers that cross the channel to the UK in the coming months, the better. This will allow for the continuation of Britain’s diplomatic tussle with France, which is nothing more than theatrics for an audience of anti-EU supporters. 

It will also be sensationalised to dominate media and political narratives. This serves to not only distract from recent corruption scandals but also provide cover for any upcoming malfeasance they won’t want people to know about.  

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

We welcome all pitches and submissions to TRT World Opinion – please send them via email, to opinion.editorial@trtworld.com

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