The granting of refuge to those at risk of persecution has a long and honourable history.
However, with the advent of globalization and the manufacture of the ‘War on Terror’, the fear of ‘the other’ is being ramped up and across the globe the barriers are going up around the enclaves of privilege. What was once a refugee, an innocent victim fleeing tyranny, is now an ‘asylum seeker’, a supplicant to be treated with suspicion and whose motives are to be questioned. Both fear and ignorance are necessary to maintain such a state of affairs and our leaders and their media claque are more than happy to feed both. It must never be acknowledged that refugees are individuals whose experiences of loss and hope, dignity and despair are as valid as our own.
Which is why books such as Acting From the Heart, How the World Came to Oxford and Towards A Promised Land are so important. Each approaches the subject of migration and asylum from a slightly different angle. Acting is fuelled by a righteous anger against the Australian Government’s inhuman – and ongoing – policy of locking up over 4,000 children in squalid camps in the outback. Towards A Promised Land’s focus is on the British seaside town of Margate, where Wendy Ewald put cameras in the hands of 20 refugee children, allowing them to record and comment on their experiences. In Oxford, the authors interview and photograph refugees who have made their home in that city, some of whom have been there for over 50 years, others for a few weeks.
What each book shares is a burning desire to allow people to speak in their own voices and tell their – often remarkable – stories in their own way.
A similar approach is taken in From Outside In, a wonderful collection of memoir, fiction and poetry by immigrants to Britain. It begins with the stories of Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis and, via exiles from Chile, Vietnam and South Africa among others, brings the history of refugees in Britain up to the present day with contributions from Iraqis, Sierra Leoneans and Kosovars.
Justin Akers Chacon and Mike Davis take a more investigative approach in No-One is Illegal, their analysis of the immigration policy of the US, particularly on its border with Mexico. They argue that the fences and barriers, the guards and the para-legal vigilantes are but one facet of globalization, the con-trick in which national boundaries are all but impenetrable for labour while being totally porous to capital. As Chacon says: ‘While global immigration is instigated by an increasingly internationalized economy, the reaction to it has been the retrenchment of national borders and the resurgence of the politics of exclusion.’ This is the ground on which the fight for social justice will be fought and must be won: a struggle for a borderless world where the interests of human beings are placed before those of capital and corporations, a world in which no-one is illegal!