CROYDON COMMENTARY: After watching the news, PETER UNDERWOOD has a confession to make
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 Underwood, pictured right, is the chairman of the Croydon and Sutton Green Party. This article has been written in a personal capacity
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