I had a lovely holiday in Dungeness, it’s a bleak mostly unspoilt spit of land made up mainly from pebbles.  I found it beautiful but it’s a harsh environment and the shifting tides bring more and more stones and pebbles to the beach, so much so that apparently old Dungeness residents (and there can’t be many of those what with all those fishing shacks bought and made into desirable Airbnbs) say you’ll be walking to France at the rate it’s going. That’s why it is probably the nearest you could get to France and why refugees (who have given thousands of pounds to people smugglers who put them into flimsy wooden unseaworthy boats or, even worse, flimsy plastic blow-up boats and point them in the direction of England) often end up beaching their tiny boats in Dungeness. They’re then bussed to god knows where to start their asylum processes.

On our holiday we didn’t see any individuals coming up the beach from the sea but twice we saw a coach parked by the Lifeboat station.  Those coaches would only be there for that purpose.

I wonder how many of you reading this have seen the English Channel and crossed it by ferry?  Going to France for me always used to mean going by ferry as we took the car and drove on from the port to our destination. Flying wasn’t really an option until, that is, a friend of ours living in France moved to Toulouse so now we fly.

Going by ferry can take you not more than an hour if you go via Dover but more often we went from Newhaven to Dieppe and that takes 4 hours, then there are the ones from Portsmouth and Plymouth which take far longer. Some of these are overnight and you can book a cabin and try to sleep but a cruise experience it is not, the cabins are basic as is the food.  And here’s the thing, when the seas are flat it’s fine, but when it’s not this 21-mile stretch of water can be a right bastard.

I remember one trip when the wind was quite lively at the start of our crossing. The kids were young so after a meal and a brisk walk round the decks where we could see the white horses topping the waves we decided to watch a film. It was one of those Police Academy films and it lasted over two hours with much action and car chases with cars with screaming wheels twisting and turning through narrow streets.  As we were watching we felt our chairs turn and move with the cars, yes, we swayed with the cars as they sped round the streets – it was exciting.  But at the end of the film, oh, wait a minute, our chairs continued to sway from side to side! There was a huge wind and the ship was tossing and rolling about like a milk bottle in a sink.

Oh.My.Word. We staggered away from the cinema to find the outer doors lashed shut with rope and the floors awash with vomit. There was a lot of movement. We were nearing Newhaven harbour and have you ever watched seamen looking worried and anxious?  I was never more scared as we approached, or rolled, into the harbour and made it to calmer waters. It was the look on the seamen’s faces more than anything.  The English Channel is not a pleasant place to be if you’re in a large seaworthy ferry, think of how it must be when refugees sit packed in their tiny fragile boats. Yes, they try to come when the sea is flat but the journey of twenty-one miles takes you a long, long way from land.

Last week twenty seven people perished in the English Channel, including children and a pregnant woman in the worst incident on this patch of water since traffickers began using it a few years ago. In a boat so flimsy it was apparently similar to a blow-up paddling pool.  If anyone even begins to say to you, they shouldn’t have tried, they shouldn’t have put themselves into that danger in the first place, all the refugee charities say that the people who get into those boats are desperate and are sometimes forced into those boats by these traffickers.  No one would do it, in their right mind, it is so dangerous.

Twenty seven people including women and children. So no, they’re not all men and by the way, they are not all economic migrants.  I mean what is wrong with being an economic migrant anyway? Surely, it means that this person wants to work and make a better life – well, good for them. It is not as though we have an overabundance of HGV drivers, or carers, or NHS staff or hospitality staff, or food preparation workers, or seasonal farm workers or pickers of fruit and vegetables. But no, they can’t even work whilst waiting for their applications to be processed. Anyway, most of these people are fleeing conflict, war and torture. They’re Kurds from Iran, they’re from Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Eritrea, and now more and more from Afghanistan. If the West doesn’t give aid to Afghanistan there will be a famine and deaths will occur, yes we might have to negotiate with the Taliban,but do you want more and more Afghans fleeing from their country? Actually, do you remember that after the Second World War, refugees were called Displaced Persons? Who were all eventually resettled.  So why are we not more helpful and welcoming?

For instance, did you know that 75% of the people who arrive on our shores are accepted as asylum seekers, so if you hear a politician saying they are not seeking asylum realise that this is a lie. Because above all they fear for their lives. And we make their lives so hard by first of all cutting off all safe routes to the UK and then if they make it to our shores and many, of course, do we make their lives as miserable as possible.  And these are people who have suffered enough.

And why to these shores rather than the first country they manage to get to?  Because many have links to this country, they speak English, they have relatives here. And actually we take so few in comparison to other countries. In proportion to its population the UK ranks 16th in Europe for asylum applications. Furthermore 86% of all refugees live in countries neighbouring to their country of origin. The UK is home to approx. 1% of the 26.4 million refugees, forcibly displaced across the world.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t bear reading about their travails. However, instead of wringing my hands and burying my head in the sand because, I, safe and sound in my little warm flat, don’t like hearing of the reality of their suffering.  Let’s ask – what can be done? Here are some pointers that I’ve picked up from my reading:

Instead of ideas about pushing the boats back – literally – with some ridiculous wave machine.  I mean, just imagine that, the waves already there are quite enough, and yes it was considered by our government ….as an idea…. what idiots!

So instead of wave machines or more British troops sent to France to man the beaches, another idea proposed that sounds rather like Trump’s wall! The thing to do is, ask why are these people paying thousands of pounds to people smugglers and getting on those boats. And the answer is there are virtually no legal routes to get to the UK, so there need to be legal refugee settlement schemes and safe routes for these people.

Indeed could not all the refugees in those dreadful camps in Calais and Dunkirk be processed in France?  Remember 75% are given asylum once they reach the UK. Apparently there are UK officials staffing something in France (not sure what) but there needs to be a more proactive UK system in France where refugees can register their asylum claim and then be brought to England on a ferry. That would, at a stroke, put a stop to much of the criminal activity of the traffickers and significantly reduce the numbers travelling to the UK on those dreadful boats.

And might it not be a good idea to solve some of those dreadful international conflicts?  No-one wants to leave their country.  It is a devastating decision to make. Some of these wars and conflicts and failing states are indeed caused by Western meddling. We should mop up the mess we make. In fact, not so long ago the UK had a Department for International Development which worked to build up the infrastructure in fragile countries.  But of course it is no more as it is now merged with the Foreign Office. Never begrudge aid to the developing world – it could prevent these dangerous journeys made by desperate people.

Also once in the UK the asylum system needs reform or at least some support to increase the speed of processing claims as it is notoriously slow and people live and wait in a limbo situation for months and years. And while their claims are being processed they are not allowed to work even if they have skills and academic qualifications (which I think is just stupid). Instead, whilst waiting they are given accommodation and £39.63 per person in a household.  The accommodation is not luxurious, far from it, and just recently there has been an outcry as more and more unaccompanied children are being dumped in hotels with no care or support. Some of these children are in Brighton hotels. However, I do know that volunteers around the country are rallying round and doing their utmost to support and help many refugees including the recent influx of 15,000 from Afghanistan.

All the above will need political will. But from this government it is not likely. It is quite clear our Home Secretary does not want to solve the problem in an empathetic way, instead she would rather wall off the UK from any more inconvenient types turning up on our beaches and send troops to the French beaches.  In fact this government is unable even to co-operate with the French as Johnson put a letter to Macron on Twitter before Macron had seen it, and Macron then disinvited Patel to a key meeting  on the tragedy. If you look at the letter it’s really just about more policing of the situation. Well that won’t stop people trying to come, ever.

I’m really not sure how things are going to be improved. Not with this government who cannot lead from the front, or deal with difficult situations, and quite frankly are afraid of what the right and the Ukippers think about all these foreigners coming to our island.  But these are desperate people and if 75% of claims are ratified then that says something about their need.

So I leave you with the fact that migration of people is what happens. There has always been migration and it will continue, there have always been displaced persons and there always will be displaced people.  At the very least we should put systems into place to deal with the dangerous crossing of the English channel. It is what we should do. We can welcome refugees and we should.

Penny Kocher, 29th November 2021


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8 thoughts on “A tragedy – but what can be done?

  • 29th November 2021 at 16:44

    As the appalling exit of Kabul demonstrated there is nothing in either the Democrat or Conservative governments that is willing to acknowledge that some people have rights to seek asylum. Surely a way to address the trade in people trafficking is for their to mechanism in place in all embassies for applications for asylum to be treated quickly and confidentially, so that the numbers of asylum seekers can be brought to UK legitimately?

  • 29th November 2021 at 20:32

    We absolutely should welcome refugees, whether they be educated professionals, or others less educated but who all have the same hope – a desire to work and make a safe home for their families and themselves. I’ve long thought it a stupid waste of resources for them not to be allowed to work legally and thus contribute to the country through paying tax, etc.
    My Dad was Polish, a miner to trade and working in Belgium at the onset of WW11. He came to Britain and joined the free Polish Army. He took out British citizenship after the war and never returned to Poland because of the Communist takeover.
    So it makes the refugee situation feel very personal to me.
    Climate change is going to exacerbate the problem in the coming years, I can’t recall the estimated figures but we’re talking millions of displaced people.
    I have no faith whatsoever that our current government have either the will or the ability to deal with the problem. Doubtless, if some one came up with an idea/s that once implemented would turn a huge profit then it would be a different story. Or am I just too cynical?

    To totally change the subject Penny, you have never mentioned your thoughts/opinions on the issues of safe single sex spaces, TWAW, JKRowling’s remarks, the situations of Kathleen Stock, Jo Phoenix, Maya Forstater, Keira Bell, etc.
    I wonder if you are considering doing a blog on any of this?

    • 30th November 2021 at 08:42

      Ah yes, our ancestors, so many of us have had a migration story. My story is of an economic migration as my great-grandfather Archibald and his brother John, left Scotland due to poverty caused by the end of the cotton hand-loom weaving industry. They joined the British army and with their regiment based in England their descendants became as English as you could ever imagine. There’s no trace of a Scottish accent or Scottish ways whatsoever in our family now but I had my DNA done last year and I don’t have a drop of English blood – I’m 75% Highlands and Islands, 20% Mid Scots with 5% Northern Irish. So I get what you’re saying. Migration is part of the human story – it’s what we do.

      As for climate change, I agree with you, the migration that is going to happen will dwarf all the migration that is happening now and make it look so tiny. Which is why I think I really need to concentrate on that subject. As for the one you suggest, hmmmmm, I have rather avoided it for many reasons, mainly because I don’t truly understand the anger and bile that is touted around when the subject comes up. It is a very sensitive tricky situation, and actually I do think climate change is THE subject, so that’s going to be my next blog piece. But never say never!

      Thanks Jacqui

      • 30th November 2021 at 15:03

        I get a daily email, “The Daily News in Brief” it comes from Sheerluxe. At the bottom of each email, there are always three articles from elsewhere. You don’t have to pay to subscribe, emails are free.
        One of the articles today was from The New Yorker, Dec 6th issue. It’s called “The secretive prisons that keep migrants out of Europe”. I’ve been in tears reading it, and realised I had to tell you about it as it’s so pertinent to this blog and also any future one about climate change. It’s quite a long read, and truly shocking.

        Re. my other suggestion; it’s an issue I’ve come late to, only really started to read up on it after JKR made her totally non-transphobic remarks last year and was subjected to the most vile abuse which continues to this day.
        Currently, here in Scotland, it’s the most important political issue for me and many others, of both sexes. The only party not promoting the whole TWAW, etc. manifesto is the Conservatives. For the first time since I was of an age to vote, I feel politically homeless. If there was an election this week, I’d have two choices, vote Conservative or not vote at all. I really can’t decide which is worse.
        But not as bad as knowing that in the last couple of years, 51 young, healthy Scottish girls were given double mastectomies because of their alleged gender dysphoria. Not as bad as knowing that an unknown number of women have been sexually abused/raped by trans women in prisons in UK prisons.
        Not as much horror as knowing that currently, the growing number of de-transitioners are offered virtually no help to re-adapt to their previous life. In fact, they are counted as successful transitions by Tavistock.
        I’m not anti trans, but I am pro woman. As a woman, I feel my very identity, my language and the hard fought for rights of the last century are on the line.
        I could go on and on about this but appreciate that this isn’t the place, so I apologise for bringing it up but I’ll never apologise for how I feel.
        Sex is a fact, gender is a social concept. Sex is the why, gender is the how.

        • 3rd December 2021 at 09:05

          Hi Jacqui and thank you. Yes,I’ve read something about that migrant issue in the Guardian. The entire situation is mind-bogglingly awful and I cannot see any way out of it. The thing is if we truly open our eyes to the world it is a ghastly sight as for the majority life is ‘nasty, short and brutal’, and I’m probably misquoting that from Hobbes, but that’s how I see life on this fragile earth. The thing is be careful it doesn’t become too much. That’s why I surround myself with clothes and (pre-pandemic) immersed myself with my cultural trips up to London.

          As for the trans debate, the three trans women I know (one is in this block) are really decent people and a million miles away from the horror stories that one hears occasionally. In fact I think the whole debate has become almost ridiculous (yes, I’ve said it) and does ordinary trans women a great disservice. However, I think there are certain organisations and people that are pushing the ridiculous end and I saw from Twitter that people are now disassociating themselves from this end – good. I’m not using names as I know so little really, it’s all gleaned either from Guardian (mostly but not always OK but not academically rigorous) or from social media (not a good source). And really my first thoughts are for global warming.

          Actually my point is look, see, yes truly see the world, but then protect yourself with love and kindness and family and friends and other things, and in my case, it’s clothes! Take care and thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  • 8th December 2021 at 19:26

    It has absolutely astounded me over the last few years at how so many here in the US hate immigrants. there is no compassion. One friend who I have known for 40 years does not like the current administration because the former one had a strict policy to keep people out, she was completely in favor of trumps wall. a few months ago when the boarder patrol was attacking migrants on horseback , using whips a number of people I know posted inline in support of the boarder police. these were folks I thought were normal individuals. they cannot stand that these desperate people be given any consideration at all. Often they call themselves Christian. a couple of years ago, when it was the height of the child separation policy I attended a march in protest. that evening I attended a Catholic service and after mass approached the priest about the situation. I was respectful and asked what could b done about it. I was totally unprepared for the anger he expressed to me, saying, I talk about scripture, not the newspaper. As if it had no relevance to how we ought to live our daily lives. his response shocks me still. Most people do not see how we in the wealthy countries have created unlivable conditions, or how climate change will continue to render many parts of the world incompatable with human existence. they do not care, as long as they get theirs. so long as so many only want to keep others out, nothing will be done. those who care can support causes they believe in , donate as they can, and of course vote. But even voting in the US may be danger, but this is another topic. I sadly do not see any change coming in my lifetime.

    • 10th December 2021 at 09:20

      We live in a dangerous time and I’m not referring to Covid. Our xenophobia here in the UK was always there disguised as English exceptionalism (which of course, the States also suffers from, exceptionalism that is) thinking we are the best of the best and ‘johnny foreigner’ can go to blazes, and you can see that in old situation comedies and just the way the West Indians were treated, who were in fact, invited (actually that’s debatable – see another MOB post I did a while back) to come after the war because of labour shortages. But it has all been made much worse by our vote for Brexit.

      Yes, a lot of people thought, now we can manage without those ghastly Europeans telling us what to do, forgetting or not realising in the first place that we had a great deal of say and influence and gained so much and especially not to forget that our largest trading block was with Europe, from which now we are excluded by the simple fact we are not in the Single Market. But far worse is, it unleashed our current xenophobia exacerbated of course by all the unrest and strife and wars in the Middle East.

      And now we ‘other’ them , and they are not seen as people, instead, our government merely thinks of policing the border or even literally pushing them back. They do not see the dreadful humanitarian crisis that is forcing so many people who also happen to be predominantly Muslim to our shores. And there we have it, they, Muslims, are beyond the pale, and must not come to our shores and if they do we’ll make their lives as miserable as possible.

      This ‘othering’ is so dangerous and that of course, is what is happening to your immigrants who are not seen as people who simply cannot live in those countries in South America that are riven with crime, and drugs and violence and death. What else can they do but try for a better a life.

      And then top it all, both our governments are chipping away at our democratic processes. We can still vote quite freely although we are inching towards voter ID when there is almost no voter fraud at all. And while there are virtually never any queues to vote as voting is so easy to do here, very slowly, and hidden by the antics of Johnson, anti-democratic legislation is being slipped into Parliament and voted through with their massive majority. You wonder sometimes if that oaf Johnson is doing it deliberately being so moronic, but actually there are some pretty nasty Right-wing MPs pushing and manipulating Johnson as he is really a will-o-the-wisp character and does anything to please and certainly anything to appease his right-wing.

      So that is where we are today in the UK, with much rampant hatred of migrants, crucially led and allowed for, by this appalling government. I’m 75 and have lived through many governments and no Conservative government has ever been as corrupt and incompetent as this one. We live in challenging times.


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