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Tuesday, 18 August 2015

On why I sympathise with the people in Calais

On 25 June 2015, I took part in a live telephone interview with BBC Radio Leicester's Jim Davis. During the interview, I said my sympathy is with the people who are trying to use Calais as a way into Britain because they have traveled far and because the journeys they have taken are extremely dangerous. I said a lot of them are coming from war-torn countries and that if what is happening to their countries were happening in Britain, people in Britain would be using any means they can to leave this island for places they think are safe.

I also said that I don't not accept the popular fiction that Britain is "a soft touch" because the exact opposite is true: Successive governments have said (publicly) that they want to create a hostile environment for immigrants in Britain. This hostility finds expression in the vile Immigration Act 2014, for example.

Here is how the interview went:

JIM DAVIS: Good morning, Ambrose.

ME: Good morning.

JIM: What would you like to say, Sir?

ME: Ah, a few things.

Firstly, listening to others who have been speaking, I notice that people seem to be making a distinction between 'immigrants' and 'people'. What seems to be getting lost is that when we talk about 'migrants', we are talking about people.

And also, those who are trying to get into Britain from Calais, they have my sympathy. The journeys that they have taken are among some of the most dangerous in the world today.

And we also need to remember that they are fleeing things like war, persecution and famine. And if what they are fleeing from were happening in Britain today, almost everyone in Britain would be trying to leave by any means necessary.

And, the other thing is that, for me, the crisis is not what is happening in Calais... The crisis is in war... The crisis is in the existence of failed states... The crisis is also in how Europe has been and is shutting down all routes to safety. And...

JIM: We can cast our minds, Ambrose, to a vote in the British House of Commons, a few years ago, where the politicians elected by the good people of Britain chose not to intervene in the Syrian crisis and step aside. Can we only therefore blame ourselves for the fact that so many thousands of people are fleeing the very persecution you speak of and seeking sanctuary and refuge in safer, calmer lands such as our own, as a result of no will to politically intervene when the war was breaking out?

ME: I would actually dispute your... your... what you say... that Britain has not intervened in Syria.
Britain has intervened in Syria. The conflict in Syria is what it is because of British and American intervention. Britain and the US, for example, have been funding armed groups in Syria right from the start of the conflict and they continue to do so, even now.

And, also, some of the people who are at Calais are Syrian. They form the bulk of the people who are at Calais.

And, speaking of Syrians, again, Britain has said that it will not take in more Syrian refugees.

JIM: Tell me a little of your own story, Ambrose. Just briefly, a few words, and your backstory.

ME: Ah... my backstory... the backstory I'm comfortable speaking about is that I came to the UK in 2002. Before that I was a teacher and a journalist. I've also experienced the immigration and asylum system in the UK. I've got friends who are still going through the asylum process. And I can tell you that from those experiences, my own and my friends', Britain is anything... it's not the soft touch... saying that Britain is a soft touch is a popular fiction. It's not true. The exact opposite is true. Britain is extremely hostile, not just to asylum seekers but to immigrants in general. And, also...

JIM: And you not just talking about the system there, are you? You are also talking about members of the public who...

ME: I am talking about the system.

JIM: OK.

ME: The system... Successive governments...

JIM: Knowing what you know now, though, Ambrose, would you have made the same choices 13 years ago?

ME: I think the choices I made, I made them because I didn't know... you know... what I know now. If I'd known what I know now, probably, I would have... you know... tried something else.

JIM: Having come through the system, though, do you feel like this is your home now and that you are welcome and have a right to be here?

ME: I do.

JIM: Good.

ME: I absolutely love this city and I've got friends and family right here in Leicester. Leicester, for me, is home. Has always been. Right from the day I first got here.

JIM: Ambrose, thank you so much for your insight and I am so grateful for your willingness to discuss your personal situation.

*An audio version of the session is accessible at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02t904q and my contribution starts at 42 minutes 20 seconds.

I think it's unfortunate that I got sidetracked into a conversation on my backstory because the backstory is a side issue. Instead of talking about myself, I'd very much have wanted to talk about the despicable Immigration Act 2014. But there you have it. Maybe I'll get to talk about the vile Act another day.

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