Dear Ms Bouchart,
I don’t envy your job. Mayor of anywhere is not an easy option, and mayor of a major port town like Calais must be even more complex. You have my every sympathy. But unless your my French is particularly execrable, and it’s not, I’m not entirely sure you have my respect.
You said this week that Britain was like the “El Dorado” for illegal immigrants – people flocking to get in in order to make use of our fabulous benefit system.
It’s an interesting claim. I’ve got to admit I lived in London for years and never noticed any gold covered streets. Crap covered, possibly. But, Ms Bouchart, whilst I appreciate your job is hard, unfortunately, I suspect in this case, you’re just wrong.
Asylum seekers in Britain receive £36 a week. Yes, this rises in certain circumstances, but let’s be honest, with British prices, this is not huge. Interestingly, it is also at almost exactly the same level as France. And yes, this might be a lot for people “with nothing in their lives”. But most of those fleeing for their lives have – or had – quite a lot. Friends, family, cultural ties, jobs. They’re not fleeing because they can get £36 a week. They’re fleeing because £36 a week – have you ever tried living on that much? – beats the alternative. And that, frankly, is scary.
And that’s assuming that you make in into the asylum system. If you’re a victim of trafficking, or if you’re turned down by the system, you’re not getting that £36. Take a walk sometime down the streets of Soho. Meet some of the girls that work there. They’re not dying to get £36. They’re dying to get in because they’ve been lied to and manipulated, because they’ve been sold a non existent dream. And this is happening in every single EU country, and it makes up a huge proportion of illegal immigration. Not people looking for what they can get. People being bought and sold to feed our own appetitites.
Since France has a similar welfare benefit system to ours, why aren’t asylum seekers battering the doors down? Well, a lot of it is because – to be fair – you guys really don’t seem to do the fast beaurocracy thing over there. And so people are waiting months in difficult and dangerous situations whilst recovering from unimaginable trauma. If we’re managing the beaurocracy just a tiny bit faster over here, I’m not sure how that’s a problem. The system isn’t perfect, but if it aims to make life even marginally easier for those who’ve gone through heartache and despair such as you or I can’t even begin to comprehend – you know what? I’ll pay the £36 myself.
Ms Bouchart, I appreciate life mayoring your town must be hard. But I worry when I hear speeches like yours. Because it makes it sound as if immigration is something that exists outside of us. It happens, and it’s inconvenient. Those pesky people!
And it’s just not. We can’t treat people like things. If we live in a world where people are hurting and dying, we need to do something about it. And I don’t know what that is. I don’t know the answer for my own country, let alone yours. But I do know that we’re never going to solve this by objectifying people, by treating them as scum, ready to take advantage.
These aren’t “migrants”, Ms Bouchart.
And when we work that one out – when our politics and our talk and our mindset truly embraces that?
I suspect an awful lot of problems – not just immigration – will be solved.
And yes, I know I’m an optimist. I know I have very few real soloutions. But I can’t help but think your words are hope-less, and that makes me sad.