YASMIN ALIBHAI-BROWN: Let’s get our own disgraceful house in order first

PUBLISHED: 10:00 29 June 2018

Migrants from the Aquarius who were refused entry to Italy but found refuge in Spain

Migrants from the Aquarius who were refused entry to Italy but found refuge in Spain

© 2017 KONTROLAB

Europeans must rekindle post-war values to combat the hostile treatment of migrants, argues YASMIN ALIBHAI-BROWN.

Idi Amin, Robert Mugabe and, latterly, Jacob Zuma were heroes for any number of African leaders. Such real bad guys made other, less vividly crooked and repressive prime ministers and presidents feel good about themselves. So Hastings Banda of Malawi ordered the torture and murders of political opponents, but hey, Mugabe was far worse. And though president Joseph-Désiré Mobutu of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (or Zaire, as it was) was a megalomaniac military dictator, he was never as barbaric as Amin.

These same patterns of self-deception and self-satisfaction are showing up today across the west. Donald Trump, is a cunning, cruel, egotistical, crude politician. Europeans and Brits recoil from his excesses and use him as an alibi.

Aren’t they so much more democratic, humane, rational or whatever than the current POTUS? Trump separates kids from their parents who are trying to enter the US illegally because, in his words, undocumented immigrants are not people. They are animals.

He doesn’t give a damn about those who seek to escape from bleak desolation, political intimidation or economic deprivation. Do Britons really care any more about the dispossessed on the move? Do Europeans? Theresa May finds the images deeply disturbing, yes, she, who coldly created a systemic ‘hostile environment’ for migrants and refugees.

Those images of wailing, man-made orphans in Texas had me in tears. But I’ve also wept for young people locked up in our own immigration ‘prisons’.

Most British people know nothing about those, partly because media access is strictly controlled. My dear friend, the late Sue Lloyd-Roberts, a BBC investigative journalist told me that it was harder to get these stories than expose violations in authoritarian states.

Around 30,000 people are held, including asylum seekers, kids, old people, pregnant women. Many are survivors of torture, trafficking and rape. Their sentence is indefinite and outside due process. Some are detained, then released and taken back in again without explanation. According to the civil rights charity, Liberty, no judge authorises their incarceration.

Many detention centres are chaotic, neglect and abuse are rife. Indefinite detention separates families and devastates people’s mental health. Self-harm and suicide attempts are common. I have met young children who cut themselves repeatedly while they were confined.

And what of EU nations? Neo-Fascists are rising everywhere (here too) and their quarries are Muslims and migrants. The idealism and promises made at the end of the war are vanishing. This generation of Europeans is eschewing, indeed smashing, the lessons of a terrible history. And EU institutions do nothing, close their eyes and hope it will all go away.

Hungary, Poland, Italy, Austria and other member states are allowing migrants to be treated worse than animals. At least Trump is honest about that when it comes to his own policies. In Hungary, charities which help destitute migrants are being targeted by prime minister Viktor Orban, but Peter Szijjarto, his foreign and trade minister was invited here this week, to meet ministers and business folk and have many fine dinners.

Last year, the Quaker Council for European Affairs warned: “Unfortunately, in the context of the so-called migration/ refugee ‘crisis’, many European governments have come to understand detention as a method of managing migration… refugees and migrants [are] subjected to arbitrary or unlawful detention in overcrowded and unhygienic conditions… Of particular concern is the exposure of children, as an extremely vulnerable group, to detention and its harmful consequences.”

Trump is a distraction. Decent, humane Europeans and Brits have more urgent duties. They must rekindle post-war values, mobilise against governments and groups which thrive on stranger hatred and remind the EU that if does not protect its own heart and soul, its meaning, it does not deserve to survive.

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