Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Refugees, asylum seekers, economic migrants and newcomers all

I chaired a hustings just before the election a few weeks back. A woman I know from another organisation I chair made some quite offensive comments about foreign workers flooding the area, particularly the fact they couldn’t speak English; and, then punctuated her contribution with “I can say this because I’m a black person!”

Before I had a chance to upbraid her for these untoward remarks the Green candidate interjected; and, I gave him full licence. He politely informed the woman that of the six people at the top table at least three were Irish and one originally from Pakistan.

One of the candidates, originally from the Six Counties, contested “I’m not Irish” at which I calmed her down with a soothing pat on the arm explaining “I think he’s talking about me.”

Coming from an Irish immigrant family I feel a certain affinity with ‘refugees’ and newcomers to this country. Maybe the Irish didn’t get called scroungers; but, like our black Afro-Caribbean Comrades arriving on these shores during the same period, we got called everything else.

Successive generations of refugees, asylum seekers, economic migrants, newcomers – call them what you will – to these shores have greatly enriched our communities. They’ve helped us out in oh so many ways; and, they’ve given far more than they’ve taken.

My parents like successive generations of the Irish Diaspora had little choice. It was either subsist in an impoverished rural Ireland of the 40s and 50s or take economic refuge in a Britain screaming out for their labour.

They worked hard all their lives and contributed financially, socially, politically and culturally to what became their home; yet, always keeping a place in their hearts that was forever Ireland – their first home.

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