Fringe Box



Letter: Gary Lineker and Guildford, Compassion is Not Political

Published on: 15 Mar, 2023
Updated on: 15 Mar, 2023

Sports presenter Gary Lineker was suspended by the BBC for criticising the government’s language on refugees.

From Gavin Morgan

You might think that the walkout of BBC sports presenters in support of Gary Lineker is not an issue for a local Guildford paper. However, when the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman used rhetoric like “swarms” and “invasion” to describe desperate refugees bravely fleeing horrors that are unimaginable to us, she was deliberately using language she assumed would appeal to Conservative voters in safe seats like Guildford.

If anyone is confused by the fuss then it was neatly explained by 83-year-old pensioner Joan Salter who confronted the Home Secretary at public meeting.

She lost family in the holocaust and explained that German Jews were so much part of society in the 1930s they regarded themselves a just Germans. It was through the use of language that Germans were persuaded to turn against their Jewish neighbours.

Politicians, even well intentioned ones hoping to stop people dying in the channel, need to take care of the language they use.

It is easy to assume that we would support a strong government able to take decisive action over difficult topics like refugees. But I think we are more discerning and there is evidence for that.

The director of think-tank “More in Common”, Luke Tryl says “people [in the UK] are more likely to approach things issue by issue”. An example of this he mentioned a focus group held in Guildford.

When the topic of sending refugees to Rwanda came up it was a Conservative voter who exclaimed “You’re kidding me! That’s disgusting”. We are not a coastal town directly impacted by people crossing the channel and issues like this might seem far away but our opinions can influence the government and do matter.

The government’s proposed migration bill makes this seem like a logistical problem when it is very much a human problem. I was invited to a meeting of the UK branch of the United Nations Refugee Agency and a refugee from Syria, a small, dark haired, smiling man, gratefully told us his story.

He spared us the full horror. His wife had died in childbirth on the journey and he had promised her he would get their children to safety. The images of three smiling, bright eyed children all under 10, now safe in Britain brought many a tear to the eye and it was a privilege to shake his hand. People like him are not refugees or immigrants. They are heroes.

One of the arguments put forward by the government over this bill is that there are “proper immigration channels”. But the United Nations Refugee Agency  (UNHCR) points out that “most people fleeing war and persecution are simply unable to access the required passports and visas”. Perhaps it is the government that has forgotten the proper channels.

In their press statement on March 7, the UNHCR states, the government’s migration bill “would be a clear breach of the Refugee Convention and would undermine a longstanding, humanitarian tradition of which the British people are rightly proud. …Based on the Home Office’s most recently published data, the vast majority of those arriving to the UK in small boats over the Channel would be accepted as refugees were their claims to be determined”.

But, “the legislation, if passed, would amount to an asylum ban – extinguishing the right to seek refugee protection in the United Kingdom” for those who arrive by boat.

We are all familiar with statements like “this country is too small for all these people”. But last year families across our town (and indeed across the country) opened their doors to Ukranian refugees. They did not have room for dozens of people but they had room for some.

And that’s the point.

And it is not as if the UK needs to resolve this issue alone. The UNHCR points out that the EU has a framework for sharing responsibility for the handling of refugees or transfer to safe countries but the UK is not currently part of that framework.

Another argument is that the UK has a proud tradition of welcoming refugees. I am never sure what that means – does it mean the generosity of previous generations allows us to be less generous? And it’s a myth anyway because there are plenty of examples of where Britain not been welcoming.

In her book “Learning from the Germans” Susan Neiman makes the valid point that mature countries stay true to the values that have shaped their strengths rather than appeal to myths about their past. If we believe in justice then we should share it.

Many of the  people who walked out with Gary Lineker have families who moved here from abroad for various reasons. They are a reminder that Britain is what it is because of the people who have moved here for centuries from Saxons and Normans through to Huguenots and beyond.

Immigration has enriched our country, not harmed it.

Guildford might not seem like a town with a large immigrant population but new comers have very much shaped its history. Guildford has the remains of  possibly the earliest medieval synagogue in the country, Woking has the first mosque.

Italian prisoners of war based here in the war settled and set up shops. Many of my friends in Guildford have proud stories of how their families moved here. My life and my world would be very different without their friendship.

So if there is no quick fix, what is the solution?

According to the UNHCR (and they should know) the solution is “making the asylum system work … Fast, fair and efficient case processing, as well as enhanced reception conditions”. (i.e. not detention centres).

Of course, that sort of approach does not produce bold tabloid headlines that win votes from people who want problems to go away. But most people realise that the world’s problems are long-term and mature countries engage with them.

A few years ago there were many letters in The Dragon and other local papers about Black Lives Matters and decolonisation. I was impressed by how thoughtful and constructive most of them were. So I hope our MP will think carefully about the government’s immigration bill and listen to what her voters really think about the government’s approach.

You can donate to UNHCR – even a few pounds will make a difference if we all do something.

Share This Post

Responses to Letter: Gary Lineker and Guildford, Compassion is Not Political

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    March 15, 2023 at 10:42 pm

    While it is easy to write screeds supporting immigration and true refugees our problem in the UK includes young men coming from and through safe countries destroying their identity documents en route and abusing our asylum system.

    There is extremely limited space available in our now overcrowded country.

    A Swedish statistical expert summed it up: for every one coming to a second country there are 100 left behind, so permitting one to travel raises expectations for a hundred who, in turn, raises the expectation for a thousand.

    It is far kinder to solve the problem in the origin countries of birth than permit one to illegally enter our country.

  2. David Roberts Reply

    March 16, 2023 at 12:18 pm

    Language does matter. The prime minister’s policy slogan is “Stop the Boats”, as if human beings are no more than rubber dinghies.

    This is a conscious attempt by Conservative PR experts to depersonalise and dehumanise the brutality involved, to pass off human misery as a technical matter of sea traffic control.

    A better starting-point would be to recognise that the victims are people like you and me.

  3. Gavin Morgan Reply

    March 16, 2023 at 9:22 pm

    Mr Allen’s comment is why I wanted to share what I have been reading.

    Of course he is right in an ideal world. It would be wonderful if these problems could be solved at source but Ukraine is a great illustration of how that is not possible.

    I believe we have a duty to show compassion and expect our government with all its resources and contacts to engage properly and intelligently with the problem.

    Denying people internationally recognised rights to appease voters and using manipulative language to discourage sympathy is not an approach that should be tolerated by the electorate.

  4. Jane Hepburn Reply

    March 17, 2023 at 10:54 am

    I thank Gavin Morgan for his well thought out and in-depth analysis of the problem. Our refugee policy has been for too long far too hand-to-mouth and knee-jerk. This in turn gives the impression that there are uncontrollable hoards of young men in small boats rampaging through our country.

    I agree with him that these people fleeing unimaginable terrors in their own country should be met as heroes, and not as is so often the case with a chaotic system of detention and endless waits, -icking their heels in small hotel rooms.

    We recently hosted a young Syrian guy, full of dreams and boundless energy, who before he came to us was fed and watered in a small London hotel. Not allowed to work or sign up for proper English lessons because he had no official papers, he was left to roam the streets for eighteen months while he was processed. His weekly allowance was enough for his telephone card to keep in touch back home, but not much else.

    When he came to us he was demotivated, his English next to zero, and he was none the wiser about navigating the system of employment and permanent accommodation. His job centre advisor put the Right Move app on his phone and asked us to teach him a few phrases with which to negotiate with landlords!

    The only way for him to move on from us was for us to throw him onto the streets and make him homeless at which point only could the council housing department step in. We have begged for a more joined-up approach to refugees in our care.

    Afghan refugee friends of ours arriving in Italy were taken to their hostel accommodation on arrival. The next day they started five hours a day of compulsory Italian classes and were put to work every afternoon on interesting and worthwhile projects of benefit to the local community, with members of that community.

    Something has gone badly wrong with our system to welcome some of the most traumatised people on earth. “Sending them back to where they came from” and making it obvious that they are not welcome is not the answer.

    I teach two female Afghan medical students in Kabul. As we all know their education and futures as doctors have been brutally cut short by their government. I have searched high and low for a way to bring them to the UK but been rebuffed at every turn. These are not people who would “abuse our asylum system” they want to serve humanity with their medical vocation and we desperately need doctors. There is no way I have found to bring them in.

    Our local hospital has just recruited 50 nurses from the Philippines-skilled and capable people I am sure. But how many skilled and capable refugees are already here waiting for the day their asylum claims are processed so that they can become caretakers, bus drivers and drive Uber taxis?

    Offering them a roof and four walls and three square meals a day is a start but these people have come to our shores for a new life and not simply to exist. We are sitting on a gold mine of talent and expertise under our noses that we ignore to our detriment.

    Rather than jumping through hoops to get rid of them we could work out a better way to help them and ourselves in the process.

Leave a Comment

Please see our comments policy. All comments are moderated and may take time to appear.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *