The discovery of 39 bodies in the back of a lorry in Essex has quite rightly brought emotions of horror and sadness to the front pages of British newspapers this morning. We have seen comments from the likes of the Prime Minister decrying the discovery as a horror and an outrage, telling us that we must desperately defeat the evil of people trafficking. Yet perhaps there is one more emotion that needs to be felt by a great number of people in Britain – shame.
For while the government might try and fully lay the blame at the vile abuses of people traffickers and proclaim themselves innocent of any culpability, the truth is rather different. Just as with the last major loss of life on these shores at Grenfell tower, the government has more than a fair share of blood on its hands and once again we are faced with the sense that the lives of the poor, of immigrants, of minorities and of the desperate and needy, simply don’t matter.
With the mutual support of a rabid press, one pushing fake-news fallacies of a “fortress Britain” that is beset by waves of culturally inferior immigrants seeking to undermine resources such as jobs, the NHS and housing, this government has created and legislated for some of the most draconian immigration laws in modern British history.
Together they have created a culture where the life of an immigrant is seen as worthless, they have successfully othered migrants and minorities into the dangerous world of being considered little more than vermin without any inalienable right to life, liberty or dignity.
Let us remember Katie Hopkin’s April 2015 column in The Sun which compared migrants to “cockroaches” and proclaimed them as “feral humans” who “spread like the norovirus”. Let us remember David Cameron’s fear-mongering statement that “a swarm of people [were] coming across the Mediterranean”.
Insects swarm, not human beings.
But the likes of Hopkins and Cameron are far from alone. From “the nasty party” of William Hague all those years ago to Theresa May’s vile immigration vans, from Breitbart to the Daily Mail and Express, Britain has been served a never-ending stream of hate for decades that has only fed, fuelled and amplified the racist dirge of the far-right and led to a swell in support for ever more draconian immigration laws and ever harsher treatment of migrants.
“[It is my aim to] create, here in Britain, a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants”Theresa May
An uncomfortable truth for those who supported Brexit is that this historic legacy of xenophobia and culture of hate did play a significant factor in the 2016 EU referendum. There are those who quite willingly wish for Britain to close itself off from the world, influenced by a rose-tinted outlook of a glorious British past populated by smiling white people speaking the Queen’s English. A time when the NHS was gloriously well-funded and well-run by Matron, when everybody had a job and everybody was respectful of their betters. It is, of course, fake history. But the implication that things were better before them is obvious.
The government’s position on immigration post-Brexit has led to a new desperation for the needy to get to our shores, with the skills-based points system making a better life almost impossible for the ever-increasing legions of poor across the continent. It serves up a two-tier system that only benefits the middle and upper classes.
“The reduction in rights for EU migrants is an attack on the freedom of people across Europe to live and work in the UK. We shouldn’t reduce the rights of EU migrants to those we give the rest of the world, we should do the opposite – defend freedom of movement in Europe and extend it to others outside of the EU. If people are worried about having their wages undercut by migrants.. you can only avoid this when you give migrants real rights.”Global Justice
It is hard to imagine the desperation that would lead people to travel halfway around the world with few possessions and little more than hope to sustain them. It is hard to imagine what horror or tragedy would lead them to pack themselves like sardines into the back of a lorry in the hope of greener pastures and a better life in Britain. It is also hard to imagine how that tiny light at the end of the tunnel was extinguished in freezing temperatures in a metal tomb in Essex. It is harder yet still to imagine that one by one those poor people will have died in absolute terror, knowing their fate was sealed and they were finally unable to make even one more desperate act for survival. The horror is unspeakable.
And yet we have allowed the creation of a victim-blaming culture that simply won’t care. One without empathy for their fellow human beings, one where death and terror are not only willfully ignored but even celebrated.
The death of British industry was a tragedy for the country, yet one industry that Britain has always successfully always managed to maintain is its production of refugees. From the days of empire to the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, Britain has played its role in producing a crisis of astronomical proportions. Beyond the Pax Americana war machine, western adherence to neoliberalism continues to exploit and oppress around the globe, the disparity between the have and have-nots leading to protest, violence and yet more of the huddled masses seeking a way out.
While people traffickers exploit the disadvantaged and the desperate for their own ends, it is our adherence to belligerent capitalist hegemony that has created the situation into which they step. Britain, like the United States, is happy to light the flames in places like Syria and then equally happy to run away once the consequences begin to take hold instead of being held accountable for the mess they have wilfully created.
“Britain is a country that continues to derive much wealth off the backs of other countries around the world. Too often, people are here because of the effects of wars, arms sales, trade deals, tax avoidance and corporate behaviour sanctioned by Britain. It is outrageous to drain other countries of wealth and then refuse to give a place to those who lose out from these policies.”Global Justice
Willingly making deals with the likes of Erdogan’s Turkey and Sisi’s Egypt, the government has given aid and support to criminal regimes in their desperate obsession with ensuring that immigrants never reach British shores. These policies have led to thousands of deaths in the Mediterranean and the extension of slavery to thousands more in Libya.
“Voters can see for themselves the sort of party the Conservative party is and the sort of government this prime minister is happy to lead. It is a party where the routine denigration of peoples and culture is too often met with no more than a shake of the head.”Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite the Union
While Conservative politicians will no doubt continue to give the victims their “thoughts and prayers” and tell us what a profound tragedy they feel the deaths in Essex are, they won’t actually be willing to change their policies for the better, nor condemn the anti-immigrant rhetoric from their ideological allies that has poisoned our society.
Yet neither the government nor the press must be allowed to pass the buck and utilise the horror to implement yet further draconian border and immigration laws. They must not be allowed to ignore any longer the long-lasting and brutal effects of the western war machine and international neoliberalism nor must they be allowed to continue to ignore a growing psychopathic culture of toxic nationalism that will both allow and even revel in tragedy after tragedy.
While the people traffickers involved certainly need to be dealt with to the full extent of the law, the true international gangsters don’t live in Budapest or Sofia, they exist within News Corporation and within our own government.