I’m just about to head off around Europe again after a couple of weeks in Britain to play at a couple of festivals and attend my sister’s wedding (a lovely day, and congratulations to the newlyweds, Zoe and John). I‘ve made the crossing over the Calais quite a few times in recent months and think nothing of it. But today is somehow different. On arriving at Dover and seeing those white cliffs tower above me, it struck me that there are thousands of people who are waking up every morning, looking at those white cliffs from the other side of the Channel, and wishing more than anything in the world that they could take their first steps on this side.
I take it for granted that I can wave a document at a border official and go on my way with no fuss at all, and I take it for granted that I can return with ease. What is the difference between me and those who have risked everything to get this far? Well, nothing really, except that I was lucky enough to be born in Britain. This took no skill on my part; my parents can, I suppose, take some credit and claim some sort of achievement, but not in a geographical sense. I am British as a result of an accident of circumstance (indeed, my Jewish great grandparents made the journey over here in the 1920s and were, on the whole, welcomed here), which is why I’m always a little confused when people say they are proud to be British. What have they done to influence this state of affairs? The only people who can justifiably make this claim are those who have made a genuine effort to arrive here and make a life for themselves. Just like those people in the camps in Calais. Anyone who arrives in Britain via that route and then lives here long enough to qualify has bloody earned being British (that’s if they want to be thought of as such).
I know that having a fully open border policy is unworkable and unfeasible. But it certainly wouldn’t hurt us to have a bit more compassion for anyone who has risked their life to try and arrive here, and open our arms to anyone fleeing war and persecution. They are far more deserving of living on this island than the vast majority of native Brits (including myself). Whenever I read stories about refugees and asylum seekers living in mansions at the taxpayers’ expense, I think two things. One: it’s bullshit. Simply not true. But let’s for a moment assume that these stories that crop every now and then aren’t a crock of anti-immigrant-propaganda-shite, my next thought is: good! It says much about the mentality of the right wing press that they are up in arms about a refugee family living in luxury, yet campaign against the inheritance tax (or DEATH TAX, as they like to call it), the scrapping of which would enable people to live in very large houses and estates for no reason other than the fact that their parents happened to be very rich indeed.
I’ve had no problems crossing borders so far in my trip, aside from a hairy couple of hours at Canadian immigration after they found a couple of painkillers in my luggage (added to the fact that there is apparently someone else with my name and date of birth with a rather colourful criminal record. Which is unfortunate). I moaned about that a bit at the time to my best friend (whom I also chided for sending me a message saying ‘Is it because you look a bit bomby?’ when I informed him that he might be waiting in arrivals for longer than previously thought. Thankfully they didn’t search through my phone messages), but that seems a bit silly when one puts it into perspective. I wish the very best of luck to anyone trying to make it over to Europe to escape war, extreme poverty or famine, wherever they end up.