If you live in the UK you cannot be unaware of the current debate about refugees coming mainly from Syria. Voxpops by current affairs programmes reveal a divided response. There are those who say we have a moral responsibility to let people who are fleeing situations we are fortunate never to have experienced come into our country. Others say there is no room and no jobs.
It’s not easy.
It’s complicated by the current governement’s determination to dismantle the welfare state. So to those who are already in need and facing ever increasing cuts may see refugees as a threat to their own existence.
It’s classic divide and rule territory.
I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t watch those images of the drowned toddler being lifted from the sea with dry eyes.Germany and Austria have set the standard for humanitarian response. Not necessarily their governments, but for the mainly ordinary people who have turned up with food, clothing, and opened their homes to total strangers.
So where do I stand?
My feeling, and I am not a politician, nor am I an aid worker, is that these people need to be given refuge. It may not suit our economic plans, but these are people, people like us, and were we in their position, wouldn’t we be hoping and praying that we would receive sanctuary?
I would welcome people and sort out the problems, problems which are going to change and which we cannot accurately forecast, as and when they occur.
Admittedly, my feelings and opinions may be coloured by the fact that I am descended from refugees. My surname is French, and my ancestors were Huguenots; French Protestants who escaped France after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. One of my more bizarre experiences was watching the film La Reine Margot, a film that deals with the persecution of Huguenots in France, sandwiched between two French, Roman Catholic friends. Our ancestors were probably revolving in their graves.
But I know that those Huguenots were not universally welcomed. Yet today one in thirteen of us in the UK can claim Huguenot ancestry. I am English. I wonder what my ancestors would make of that statement. To me, being English is by definition to be be of mixed ancestry. I am proud of my mongrel heritage. I loathe nationalism in its various forms, but most particularly that nationalism that insists on the purity of lineage in one place. The sort that insists you are a *foreigner* because your family was never adventurous enough to live anywhere else. Ever.
I am also a Londoner. I wasn’t born here, but I have lived here longer than I have lived anywhere else. That doesn’t stop me also being a Guildfordian, being half Irish, and having German ancestry in the mix. We are all multiple in our identities and loyalties. London is one of the most diverse cities in the world. Last year Duncan Morrow told me London is the future. A place where people from all different countries somehow live together and borrow and steal from each others’ cultures to create a wonderful synthesis.
So yes, let them come. There will be bickering, there’ll be upsets and shouting, there’ll be sibling rivalry on an industrial scale. But in the end it will settle down. We’ll all be English, or maybe British. Englishness and Britsihness can so often seem interchangeable because of England’s mixed heritage, so we are less insistent on our nationhood, whereas Ireland, Scotland and Wales are traditionally what the nationalists would claim to be less *polluted*.
Now we just need the government to ditch its divisive strategies and let us get on with it.
Welcome to the New England.