The Migrant Blame Game

Left Unity public meeting in Brighton, Migration, Ethnicity and the Aftermath of the Referendum , 4th Oct 2016

The meeting was chaired by Pip Tindall with three migrant speakers Joseph Healey an Irish migrant and co-founder of Left Unity, Umit Ozturk from EuroMernet and Giuseppina Salamone from CASE Central.

The title of the meeting (starts) to say it all. We all know humans have migrated from place to place from the dawn of human of human history to the present day and will continue to do so as long as people have the need to escape danger, find work, start a new life and escape oppression.

The speakers gave unique perspectives on the issues of migration today, particularly after the Brexit referendum. Joseph was up first and his support for migrants and the historical and current reasons for migration and problems for migrants was clear, he expressed his worry that we were in a time like the late 1920s. People need to learn the lessons of history. He spoke about the dangerous position taken by the Tories pandering to the extreme right and given political awareness at the present time it would be unwise to hold a second referendum but he did support the need for debate in Parliament about Brexit and its consequences. He also pointed out the deficiencies in the EU’s policy on migration while also taking a sideswipe at “Bojo” Johnson for advising the Turks on how to join the EU. I don’t think the word contradiction covers it. Finally he pointed out the divisions in the labour party while broadly supporting Corbyn and leaving us with Liam Fox’s statement that all (3 million) EU citizens are cards in the Great Brexit Negotiation Game!

Umit gave another perspective from his position as the founder of EuroMernet , an organisation that seeks to support European and mediterranean migrants locally and internationally. Amongst other things he spoke of the suppression and control of the migrant voice by the mainstream media whose ‘male’ voice dominated. The work of EuroMernet provided ‘counter narratives’ that would give an alternative view through film, radio, poetry and cultural exchanges. He emphasised a determined but non aggressive approach to dialogue with those who had distorted views on (im)migrants and called for a stronger independent media voice after explaining a radio project that collated different EU migrant voices from those working in Brighton restaurants and broadcasting them on EMNs radio.

Giuseppina from CASE Central, a local organisation that supports immigrants having welfare and benefits problems, spoke next. First, she thanked Left Unity for its support and gave a short breakdown of how UK governments have been able to deport EU citizens since the 1990s. She then focussed on the uncertainties caused by the decision to leave the EU and how it will affect migrants. The “Great Repeal Act” trumpeted by Theresa May will be a piece of secondary legislation that could pass into law without being voted on in parliament – a truly un democratic process and would make freedom of movement and political expression more difficult. The expressed her upset at members of the left voting to leave and was dismayed by the apparent lack of concern over the rise in racist hate crimes and behaviour.

The discussion then became general and focussed people’s attention on the need for awareness and action to counter the under current of racism in British culture and how the status quo seeks to exploit this dividing one group in society against another. It is important to support Stand up to Racism and their fight against this. The panel and members from the floor all expressed the need for solidarity and action to support migrants. I’ll leave you with a thought raised by John Fitzgerald when visiting a meeting organised by artists who voted to remain and were confused about whether they were right or not. There should be no confusion – tell it as it is – Brexit and blaming migrants for the deficiencies of capitalism is wrong.

Giuseppina from CASE Central, a local organisation that supports immigrants having welfare and benefits problems, spoke next. First, she thanked Left Unity for its support and gave a short breakdown of how UK governments have been able to increasingly attack the rights of EU citizens since the 1990s. These rights prevent the extreme exploitation of migrants and its consequent effect on wages and working conditions in the UK. She then focused on the uncertainties caused by the decision to leave the EU and how it will affect migrants, as well as the potential for solidarity among us. The “Great Repeal Act” trumpeted by Theresa May will allow government bureaucrats to replace European law through secondary legislation enabling the changes to become law without a parliamentary vote – a truly undemocratic process. Giuseppina expressed her upset at members of the left voting to leave and was dismayed by the response to the murder of a Polish worker in Harlow, which was weak in comparison with other issues of racism that arose in the same period.

Barry Steer, Oct 2016