Friday, 25 April 2014

THE WRONG CONVERSATION

Image Credit - http://www.flickr.com/photos/dannyman/4672474943/
Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
The campaign to prevent UK asylum seeker Afusat Saliu being returned to Nigeria, where she fears her two daughters will be victims of female genital mutilation, looks unlikely to succeed, despite 100,000 people signing up in 4 days to the petition on change.org.

Particularly interesting are the reasons people have given for supporting this campaign: they are thoughtful, informed, compassionate, empathetic – all the things you would want people to be who have the power to make decisions that so profoundly affect people’s lives.

This case, like that of Yashika Bageerathi, the A level student deported to Mauritius before she had the chance to complete her studies, illustrates how far political decision-making has fallen out of touch with the human qualities that people value in their daily lives. It is easy to argue that the law is the law, except that the implications of that argument are that compassion, empathy and thoughtfulness ought not to be applied where the law is concerned. That sounds like the language used to justify all manner of barbaric acts: “I was only following orders”, i.e. not thinking for myself and acting in a spirit of shared humanity.

The issue here is not, as often portrayed, between rules and no rules; it is between smart rules and blunt rules. Smart rules say that people who have been in the UK for a few years, are integrated into their communities and are living useful lives should be encouraged to stay, whatever the circumstances. We need people like that, and we have no business to be increasing the sum of human misery in the world by destroying the new lives they have built. That they may suffer additional abuse if they return to their country of origin should strengthen their case, but people who have built new and useful lives should not be thrown out whatever the circumstances.

Blunt rules say that Yashika was 19 when she was deported, so the regulations that say that children should be allowed to stay to finish their exams do not apply to her. They say that the present circumstances of an applicant for asylum are not relevant, that it doesn’t matter how long ago or how recently they arrived, or where the rest of their family is, or where they have made their lives. They say, in effect, that the human reality of a case is not a legitimate area for consideration.

You have to wonder, What planet are these people on? As so often, they are having the wrong conversation, in this case about hard, arbitrary, artificial, generalised regulations rather than soft, specific, real, individual people. Politicians don’t get it that anti-immigration sentiment is not anti-immigrant; it is a generalised sentiment fuelled by the choice (when available) between unemployment and long hours on poverty wages, that many now face. In these circumstances, any government action intended to make people’s lives even more difficult than they already are will continue to attract outrage, whether it is the UK Border Agency destroying a family or the Department of Work and Pensions applying sanctions to its meagre benefits.

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