‘I don’t come from round here. I am a migrant, too’

CROYDON COMMENTARY: After watching the news, PETER UNDERWOOD has a confession to make

Independent front pageThe BNP has decided to parade its ignorance in the centre of Croydon tomorrow.

When I see their members’ nasty, hate-filled, anti-immigration stance – echoed by too much of our national media and by too many politicians – then I feel it’s about time I made a public confession.

I am a migrant.

I don’t come from round here. I wasn’t born in the local hospital, I didn’t go to the local school and none of my family have ever lived anywhere near here.

I got to London in my early 20s. I came to try to find work and because I believed London was the place to be. London was and still is a creative, vibrant city full of potential. In those days you were free to be whatever you wanted to be and you could probably find a group of other people who wanted to be that as well. As a young man, London offered a thrilling present and a glittering future.

When I arrived, I slept in the living room of a two-bedroom flat that I shared with three other people. Two of the people in the flat worked, another got occasional short-term jobs and I was claiming benefits. Sometimes we were joined in the flat by partners, lovers or friends who just needed somewhere to sleep for the night. We talked, we drank and I remember playing computer games through the early hours of the morning – anything to break up the tedious existence while we waited for the chance to get on with our lives.

Eventually I got a job in an office doing the filing. The fact that I had a different skin colour to many of my colleagues didn’t cause me any problems. I was introduced to a few new foods and many new words. Apart from a few comments about my hair and my “funny” accent, I was soon accepted as part of the team and was treated just like everyone else. With the money I was earning I was able to rent a house with a few friends, where I now had a room of my own. I soon got promoted at work and bought a second-hand car. Within a couple of years I was just another Londoner: commuting to work, meeting friends for nights out in town, and a regular in my local pub.

In the years since then I have mostly been in work and paid taxes. I’ve helped out with charities and voluntary groups and my local residents’ association. I hope that I have given back far more to London than I have ever taken.

So, when I look at the people fenced out in Calais or the southern borders of Europe, I have to ask myself – why are we trying to keep these people out?

Compared to the people I see in these news reports, I had it easy. Many of these people are escaping war-torn or despotic regimes and some were injured, tortured and traumatised before they even began their journey. I had been in a few fights in my teens but I was generally fit and healthy.

Many of these people are caring for older relatives and children, trying to keep everyone alive until they reach a longed-for destination. I just had a rucksack to look after. They face barbed wire, police lines and hostility from racist gangs in every country they go to, whereas I traveled largely unnoticed all the way to London. They have traveled across an entire continent, with little or no money, risking their lives with ocean crossings and smuggler gangs. All I had to do was get on a coach.

It seems to me that these people are far more resourceful, far more resilient, far more determined and far more deserving of a chance to succeed than I ever was. Having been through what they have, they have shown more drive and strength than most people in this country will ever need. These are exactly the sort of people we want in this country, people who will work like mad to make their lives a success, support their families and contribute to society. They will also hopefully show a more caring attitude to others in need than the selfish, ignorant racists here now who are demanding that migrants are kept out of the country.

When I was young I left a place where I could no longer stay, and I set out to start a new life in a place that gave hope. But I was very lucky. I’m white, I’m British, and I only had to travel for one day on a coach down the motorway to get here. My journey to where I live now was without trauma and my move seemed like one of those things you had to do when you wanted to get a job or start a family or just see what somewhere else had to offer.

But, by any sensible definition of the term, I am a migrant.

The vast majority of the people we see on news reports at Calais or crossing the Mediterranean should properly be referred to as refugees but the media seems determined to stick to the term “migrant”. Migrant is often used to try to imply that these people are less deserving of our support, less deserving of a chance to live in this country. But when I see them labelled as “migrants”, then I realise that they are people like me. People who just want the chance to be who they want to be and to find a better life for themselves and their families. When I look at myself I hope that I show some of the courage and fortitude shown by the people in the news reports. They have overcome some of the biggest challenges anyone could ever face and so to be included in their number is something to be proud of.

So I’m asking all of you, many of you fellow-migrants, to stand with us. Our people need your help to convince the government that compassion and fellow-feeling are more important than immigration targets.

We need to stand together against the racist, heartless ideology of groups like the BNP who would rather see children drown than let them into the country. We should be gladly providing these refugees with a safe place to live and an opportunity to build a future.

Peter UnderwoodAs a fellow migrant I think they deserve no less.

  • Peter Underwood, pictured right, is the chairman of the Croydon and Sutton Green Party. This article has been written in a personal capacity

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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3 Responses to ‘I don’t come from round here. I am a migrant, too’

  1. What a load of codswallop.

    You need to get a grip. (cue the racism card). This country is full to bursting. Have you not noticed we have a housing shortage for people who are already in this country. We have schools with overloaded class sizes, we have hospital waiting lists that are already at breaking point.

    The answer is NOT to allow more unrestricted immigration. The answer is to help this people whilst in their own countries. We have £12b a year in overseas aid, much of which is wasted. We should together with the rest of Europe and other wealthier countries outside of Europe have a concerted effort to make safe countries that are in trouble. Use our money wisely. We should create safe regions inside these countries where desperate people can go instead of having to risk their lives on death trapped boats.

    Allowing unrestricted immigration is nothing more than a sticking plaster. Real action needs to be taken. One that doesn’t encourage mass migration, but allows people to live together safely in their own land. It can be done, but will only happen when leaders have the right will to make it happen.

  2. Ian Geary says:

    The twist was amusing, thought obvious to spot. Neither I nor my wife come from “round here” either.

    I think the term refugee should stop being used once they are past the first safe country. This is a well known convention of asylum, though I can see why Southern Europe turn a blind eye to it.

    Of course, the vast majority of displaced people from Syria’s conflicts are still within Syria, or with neighbouring countries (e.g. Turkey). Those coming all the way across Europe are doing so to have a better life – which whilst I can completely understand why they’re doing it, it is an economic reason rather than a safety reason. Hence, economic migrant is the correct term.

    Anyway, heart rending pictures of dead children, or razor wire fences aside, Eurpoe’s migrant crisis is a bit of a side show.

    The big issue is: how does the world deal with a ballooning population in countries that can’t, or won’t support them?

    The developed world’s technology is helping populations to grow, and its technology is making conflicts worse, but hasn’t yet come up with a solution to end the inevitable inequality.

    With global communications, the wealth of the developed world must be a big magnet to those less fortunate.

    So, the question becomes; how does the developed world protect its relative wealth? (Assuming you want to protect it. I can see an argument it would be much “fairer” if everyone just shared everything equally, but then most people get beyond that when the leave primary school).

    I would argue the developed world can do far more for those less fortunate by not watering down its economic capability with an “open door” policy to anyone who wants a better life. Think of a lifeboat – it can hold so many, but once it’s capacity is exceeded it becomes useless for all. And a siege mentality to the developing world is not exactly going to help cohesion either.

    Shouting racist / Nazi at anyone who raises concerns about the immigration issue is just going to prevent a sensible, reasoned discussion about solutions (though I suspect this is a deliberate ploy to avoid coming up with solutions of their own). Note: let everyone in is not a sensible, reasoned solution to me, for the reasons given above.

    I’m sure some voices might be hate-filled, but the “Racist / Nazi” clamour is very indiscriminate, and very good at drowning out all voices: hate-filled, or just concerned.

    So instead of a solution that might actually help the situation, what we end up with is a policy vacuum, where conflicting and wasteful knee jerk decisions get made, based on whatever sad photo makes it to the headlines that week (see Budapest rail fiasco for an example)

    So well done for that.

  3. davidjl2014 says:

    Peter Underwood will no doubt get an OBE for community services in the long outdated accolades we continue to award to people who cannot open their minds as wide as they open their mouths. The BNP is not an organisation I would support, but they still have a right to express their views under the democracy of this country. If, as a migrant Underwood objects to it, I suggest he returns to the “Republic” he came from.

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