The Meandering Social Worker

wandering : wondering : learning

Archive for the tag “asylum seekers”

Refugees (un)welcome here

In response to an article in Take Part:

Here’s how I see it. The problem of refugees from Syria and surrounding areas arriving in large numbers on the shores of Europe exists, and all the NIMBYism in the world won’t make it go away. We have to understand the causes and find the best way to resolve the problem.

If the USA and parts of Europe hadn’t interfered in the Middle East and removed despotic but stable dictatorships, creating a void that could be filled by even more despotic but unstable terrorist groups, then the current problem, particularly with ISIS, would not have arisen in the first place. And all the time we continue to interfere the problems will continue. There are plenty of analyses that point to the rise of ISIS being a direct consequence of the actions of the USA and UK in Iraq long before Russia got involved (there are too many to cross reference in this blog but here is just one that appears quite clear to follow). And the flow of weapons and arms from the West to the Middle East is compounding the situation. For those reasons alone we have a responsibility to hold our governments and the arms dealers at least to account. And they have a duty to help resolve the problems they have caused, which will of course impact on us, the general population in the West.

In the meantime, whether we like it or not, there is a humanitarian crisis going on, on our doorstep. We can’t just bury our heads in the sand and hope it will go away. Not least, because our governments and arms dealers are continuing to exacerbate the situation while operating a smoke and mirrors dialogue trying to tell us otherwise.

The surrounding countries that are willing to take in the refugees (about half of those in the area and most notably NOT Saudi Arabia, one of the few remaining stable but exceptionally despotic countries in the region but whom we choose to call ‘friends’ and to not attack, no doubt for our governments’ own selfish economic reasons) are already saturated, far more than we can imagine if you look at the figures.

Most refugees and asylum seekers actually want to go back to their home countries eventually (and one is quoted here in this article as saying just that), but they can’t yet because they’ve been bombed on both sides into virtual obliteration. And with bombing and destruction still going on there would be no point in trying to rebuild what was once there. There’s little or nothing to go back to in many (not all, I agree) areas. Most want to work, such as the IT expert quoted in the Take Part article (above). Most just want to be with their families. You can see that too in this article and elsewhere. And family is a much wider concept to non-Westernised cultures than we generally understand in our modern world. It’s one we used to experience a couple of centuries ago but our modern individualistic / nuclear family lifestyles eroded it away. Many are actually originally from wealthier, educated, professional backgrounds (they’re the only ones who could afford the traffickers’ fees to get as far as Europe in the first place) with skills to offer and the ability to work and contribute.

Fears that terrorists are using refugees as cover for getting into the West are no doubt valid to some extent, although the evidence suggests that taking this dangerous and laborious route is not actually necessary: they have plenty of means of recruiting local activists through online radicalisation, and others have shown they have more reliable means of travel. One problem that could arise though, is that in reacting in fear and loathing towards the refugees and asylum seekers, they see in us a hatred and fear that makes them vulnerable to the hate preaching of the radicalisers. By our own actions and attitudes we could be turning them against us and into the arms of the terrorists. A second problem we are creating is that in further punishing the refugees and asylum seekers we are compounding all the psychological problems they have experienced through the wars in their homelands. This reduces their abilities to settle anywhere or rebuild their lives, and again makes them vulnerable to fundamentalist recruiters.

We have to step above and beyond our fears, our NIMBYism, and see the bigger picture. Building walls and blowing up bridges won’t stop the refugees coming and it won’t stop the reasons they are coming. We have to be a part of finding solutions that work for both the refugees and for us. To stop the wars and make their homelands safe places they can return to and rebuild. And right now, pitting ourselves against each other – bleeding hearts versus the wall builders – is allowing our governments to get away with continuing doing all the things that helped exacerbate this situation in the first place.


Swarms of racists

Those who know me will know I’ve been more active on Facebook recently than on the blog.  But it’s time to string a few more words together on a very important subject.


I don’t think anybody wants to see mass migration (albeit perhaps for different reasons, bear with me).  I don’t want to see a massive influx of immigrants coming to Britain or Europe. But they are. I would rather they were able to live in their own countries. Because the truth is that most of them would rather live in their own countries. And when it is safe to do so many of them return to their homelands. Because that is what they would prefer. But it’s not that simple.

We as a society, as communities and as individuals, whatever our circumstances, need to recognise that if people are uprooting their entire lives, leaving everything they know and love, for a dangerous journey to a strange place, then they are doing it for a very good reason.

Generically speaking, “we”, in the destination countries, have raped, pillaged and bombed their homelands until they are no longer safe or viable places to live. Where we’ve not done that we’ve promoted consumerism and a vicious form of capitalism that has broken down communities into individuals fighting each other for resources. If we have any compassion left in our souls we should be recognising that the plight of asylum seekers (aka immigrants) is a symptom of the global world we are creating and that we as humanity need to be responding to that to make this world a safer place for all of us to live. NIMBYism is not going to help. The back yard is getting smaller. As Niemoller is famously quoted as saying: when it comes to our turn who will be left to fight for us?

I’m far from alone in my concerns.  In one report the Guardian recently commented on a growth in Naziism related to the rising numbers of asylum seekers being accepted into the country.  (Sorry, don’t have a link for this any more.)

Laurie Penny, writing in the New Statesman, has observed the rise in racism since returning from a year of travels.

Penny likens our situation to the old legend of boiling frogs – the frog starts out in a saucepan of cold water and doesn’t notice the increasing temperature as it sits on the fire slowly being boiled alive.  She’s right. Starting with media coverage of UKIPs stance on immigration, the recent UK elections opened a floodgate of simmering racism such that there is no shame in sharing bigoted, dehumanising views in person, online, or through the media.  In one experiment adapted Nazi propaganda posted to the Daily Mail online received way more upvotes than downvotes, suggesting (blind) support for some quite worrying views.  From online (pre-moderated) comments from the public I have seen there are certainly some deeply entrenched fears that all migrants are heading for Britain (not true), that it will lead to the collapse of the country, strong disbelief in the government’s desire or ability to protect the country, a desire to close our borders, and a consistent theme that most migrants are not genuine, only coming for our generous benefits (they’re not) and NHS and all migrants should be sent back to where they came from.

I have personally had two conversations in recent days, with complete strangers who have come across as very angry in their tirades about ‘immigrants’: one harking back to the ‘coloureds in the 50s’, another picking up on David Cameron’s recent unfortunate terminology in complaining of them ‘swarming over here’.

Whilst you “can’t please all the people all the time”, and there will instead of xenophobiaalways be opposition, our leaders need to learn the advice of Ahtisaari and show true leadership.  They know the power of their ill-spoken words.  Talk of using electric fences, dogs and the army to keep swarms of migrants at bay reinforces negative images, builds fear and increases community tensions and the risk of violence.

We have to ask ourselves the question: what’s in it for them, the politicians?  By distracting public opinion and stoking strong feelings on to migration, what important and unpalatable actions are being performed by governments that could have far more reaching consequences for our local and global communities and even the world we live in?

Thankfully there are communities who are welcoming and supportive of migrants.  Although too few have their voices heard in the wider media scramble for negative news, they are not alone.

There is a crisis.  A humanitarian crisis.  Digging in the trenches and lining up the gun sights is not going to make it go away.


Making Assumptions

Some years ago I worked in a social work team where one of the social workers came from Glasgow.  Now this team was in southern England, nearly as far from Scotland as you could get.  When a newly qualified social worker joined us who also happened to be from Glasgow it was assumed that these two would have a natural understanding, and were put together for supervision purposes.  After all they were both from the same country and a long way from home, and the older more experienced social worker would surely be the ideal one to support the new worker?

What, in our southern ignorance, we did not realise was that they came from opposite sides of Glasgow.  Opposite cultures within the same city.  Opposing football teams to support.  Natural enemies even.

Fortunately their professionalism enabled them to overcome the differences in their cultures, and no doubt shake their heads at the southerners’ ignorance.

It’s easy to make assumptions like that.

Even in the setting up of asylum teams in the 1990’s we made the same mistakes.  There was somehow an assumption that because asylum seekers were in the same situation, escaping war torn countries, it was sometimes overlooked that they had escaped from opposing countries in the same war!  With hindsight it was obvious, but what foolish mistakes were made at the time.

While I was travelling in Siberian Russia for a while I happened to stay for a week in a town where I was the first European they had seen in living memory.  The evening before I was leaving a young English backpacker arrived in a bar on the other side of town.  Immediately telephone calls were made and mechanisms put in place to put us in touch with each other.  Let’s call him Jay.  It was naturally assumed, that being from the same country, we would want to meet up and talk.

Actually it was good to meet Jay, less because we were both English than because we were both travellers and could compare travel notes.  Having the same first language was merely an advantage.

The impression was given that if two Russians found themselves alone in a foreign country they would want to meet.  But I wonder if that is true?

Jay and I were several years apart in age, he was a recent graduate taking a gap year while I had studied in later life, he came from a relatively privileged background while I definitely originated from “working class” stock.  I was travelling by car, he was backpacking.  Back in England it was unlikely we would have naturally met up and socialised.

Staying in an Andean village, well stuck actually due to a breakdown, the villagers would come rushing over saying “amigo, amigo?” every time another European passed through.  The same assumptions were being made.

On another occasion I met two young English girls in a backpackers’ hostel in Costa Rica.  Well, I say ‘met’, but that is probably too strong a word for it.  We happened to be staying in the same dorm room in the same hostel.  They were clearly completely confounded to find someone old enough to be their mother, maybe even their grandmother, staying in such a hostel and never managed to look me in the eye such was their complete inability to know how to handle such a situation.

Age, class (yes it still exists), wealth, education, employment, sociability, family, sexual orientation, geographical location, politics, religion, hobbies and interests.  These and more are all potential divisive factors even in our home countries.  Sure, they can all be overcome, but how many times have I seen police and ‘front line’ social and health workers gravitate to share socialising because their jobs bring them into natural contact and there is a sense of safety in that familiarity?  And why is it unusual to see CEOs down the pub with the postman or plumber?

I’m not suggesting its right or wrong, it just is.  The lovely people in that small Siberian town might be surprised at how different the lives are of people from Moscow, and that maybe the mere sharing of the same language is not a foundation for anything more than a brief passing friendship, just as was my contact with Jay.

Scottish, English, African, Latin American, indigenous; wealthy and poor; young and old; educated or not (which has nothing to do with intelligence); capitalist, environmentalist, socialist; and more.  We are all a mixture of different ingredients, unique in our own way.  As we practice that difference in our own lives, let us also remember the differences in those we work with, both as colleagues and clients.

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