Africans, Arabs and Asylum (or the Daily Mail, part 2)

The second Daily Mail story is more shameful. It underlines the nasty xenophobia that pervades UK attitudes to migration and asylum. A Senegalese football team is missing in France: the Mail reports that ‘It is possible that the missing footballers could have headed to England’. Though it has to admit that seeing as they’re, um, French-speaking, this is actually pretty unlikely.
The Senegalese footballers are just a pretext for reiterating comments made by Teresa May the day before. May – along with her French counterpart – has insisted that she will do everything possible to keep African migrants out of the UK and France, especially those displaced by the ‘Arab Spring’ pro-democracy revolutions.
This is staggering in its own right. Those fleeing violence, insecurity and persecution have a legal right and a moral claim to entry. Some of those displaced are refugees. To insist that political revolution should result only in preventing entry – which, as I’ve said before, are manufactured crises – rather than any offer of hospitality is a pretty damning indictment of our practice of our “liberal values”.
Yet the extraordinarily narrow limits of our humanity are made even clear by May’s insistence that ‘we will not agree to so-called “burden sharing”.’ This so-called burden-sharing is one of the foundations of refugee protection. Yet Western states have been avoiding this responsibility for years. In 2009, there were 10.4 million refugees globally. 80 % – 8.3 million were hosted by developing countries. The UK? We take 0.02%.
May’s policy is brutal. It is selfish. It is a reflection of the worst kind of populism. May’s apparent goal is ‘to ensure the border is impenetrable’. Yet this ignores the fact that illegal immigrants may be refugees too.
I am beginning to seriously fear that one of the legacies of the Arab Spring may be the effective end of meaningful asylum space in Europe. This shift will have terrible consequences. A system of universal asylum was our penance for the horrors of World War II. Do we really want to slide back towards the paralysis of the 1930s?
So I end up back at Hannah Arendt:
Those whom the persecutor had singled out as scum of the earth — Jews, Trotskyites, etc. — actually were received as scum of the earth everywhere; those whom persecution had called undesirable became the indesirables of Europe…if the world was not yet convinced that the Jews were the scum of the earth, it soon would be when unidentifiable beggars, without nationality, without money, and without passports crossed their frontiers.
History warns us. But somehow, I don’t think either May or the Mail are interested in learning these lessons.