Changing the narrative
I moved to the UK twenty years ago from a country that is still to this day is battling economic depression on an unprecedented scale. When my family and I hopped on a plane to Britain, I was so excited. We practiced our English accents, read a leaflet on all the tourist hot spots such as Buckingham Palace and we were ready to go.
It was a long flight and the first time I had ever been on a plane. We crossed over the length of Africa. Flying past the snowy peaks of Mount Kilimanjaro, the vibrant Serengeti, the perfectly blanketed sands of the Sahara, the River Nile and the Pyramids of Giza. When night-time came, the images of my birth continent illuminated my mind as I drifted between vivid dreams and the strange consciousness of flying through the air. I then woke to the sound of the pilot informing us of our arrival and that we would be landing shortly. I was thrilled we had finally made it. Then my ears began to pop from the air pressure.
To my then ten-year-old self, it was pain I hadn’t anticipated or experienced. All I wanted was to desperately get off the plane. Finally, we landed at London, Heathrow Airport. Once we were parked and the engine switched off, the flight attendant asked for those with British passports to leave the plane first and those with other passports to stay on board. Silence filled the cabin as we all waited patiently to hear our fates, slowly realising that being treated differently would be a running theme. Eventually, the flight attendant returned and asked us to make our way to border control. Once we got to the queue, the nightmare began. I noticed people being escorted away from the front desk to another area in the airport, which I later realised was a detainment facility, which my family and I were eventually sent to. We sat there for hours waiting to be released. One by one, people were picked out of detainment as I wondered where they were being taken to. The fear of being deported crossed my mind as I had heard whispers about it from other people in the room. At ten years old this was a reality I was more than ready to face, but at the same time I just kept wishing I didn’t have to fly on that plane again and have that painful air pressure in my ears. After hours of waiting, we were finally released to go and meet our family members who awaited our arrival.
My journey to England was an incredibly easy one in comparison to the men, woman and children who travel in the riskiest of conditions. It is clear that the standards around immigration have deteriorated greatly and especially through the narratives around migrants. In my view, migrants are noble and brave people who sadly leave behind the natural splendour of their birth countries when turmoil turns everything upside down. People who leave for reasons that are steeped in a global history of corruption and neglect. But leaving a bad situation and migrating is normal human behaviour so why are we treated this way? Migration is ingrained in civilisation and has been since the dawn of time however, the media and politicians have tainted this act that bonds us all, with a brush that demonises and criminalises those for acting on the hope of a better life. A hope that has been fundamental to humanity’s survival. A hope that makes a man use heavy iron spades as oars. A hope that makes a man risk people trafficking, being sold into slavery and death. All because he believes a life in his home country is one not worth living. We’ve seen the images of children suffering malnutrition and wars obliterating nations. The adverts campaigning for donations for countries that are in despair. The video of the explosion in Beirut. Would their citizens be wrong for wanting to leave? We have become accustomed to donating or looking away, as long as these tragedies never show up on British shores. God forbid if they do, then we can no longer look away and carry on our lives as normal.
The demonisation of immigrants is just another reminder that there are issues to confront and that it is an uncomfortable conversation to have because when one begins to peel back the reasons and the layers, they are met with the uncomfortability of realising that silence is compliance. The immigration narratives in Britain are linked to the same ideas that underpin racism. When the media speeds up to a migrant boat for an interview, they can only do so because they do not view migrants as human and that is the foundation of a racist point of view. Can you imagine what these exhausted people migrating would have thought when a large boat approached them after this mentally draining journey? Their hopes and fears rising to the surface in this moment, but rather than receiving a helping hand instead they received a camera shot and a boom stick. Robbing people of their dignity and taking advantage of such a desperate situation. To be able to look past the needs and requirements of other human beings simply for the objective of generating clicks on a story. This is the logic of racism. This is the logic that founded slavery and a host of inexplicable atrocities. The logic that politicises the death and age of a Sudanese migrant Abdulfatah Hamdallah, because British heartstrings will only be content with the death of young children and nothing less than that will suffice.
Most immigrants don’t even get to tell their story, it is told for them by the media. I am an immigrant and I am no different to those who arrive on makeshift boats. We just want a better life for ourselves and our loved ones, or are fearful of our lives being taken away back home. Taking these great risks is something many families would do without question if they needed to. The truth is that sensationalising suffering attracts eyeballs and that seems more important to some. However, it also destroys humanity’s core values and amplifies racist and xenophobic narratives. If Britain can start to acknowledge racism and stop being selective on immigration, then I believe it will begin to stop the dehumanisation of migrants and the dehumanisation of anyone who doesn’t meet the white criteria. Overall, it can improve policies and approaches towards migrants and immigration. Once we can have these conversations and acknowledge the backdrop which is a history of racism, things can begin to change. The longer we sit back for another story about swarms of migrants invading Dover, without correctly identifying the racist and xenophobic strings at play, more of us will die in vain and our humanity along with it.