Has Britain lost its sense of history?

English and French ships at the Battle of Chesapeake, part of the American War of Independence
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few thousand bedraggled, desperate human beings have crossed the English Channel to seek our help. They are unarmed and come in peace from war-torn and devastated countries. In many cases, their plight was caused by the bombing of their homes by us and our allies. 

Under international law, they are not considered to be ‘illegal’. The law recognises that refugees must often use so-called ‘illegal’ or ‘irregular’ means to reach suitable sanctuary, and in many cases, may have to cross several borders to do so.

Indeed, for such people – homeless, stateless, impoverished and ravaged – there are no ‘legal’ or ‘regular’ routes to reach Britain. But, once on our shores, almost all of them are officially accepted by the UK authorities as genuine asylum seekers.

They don’t expect much in return – and neither do they get much.

If they are destitute (many are; some are not) then they get a roof over their heads – sometimes, just temporarily, a hotel, but longer-term, usually ‘hard to let’ properties which council tenants don’t want. They also get just £5.39 a day each to cover food, clothing and sanitation. The majority don’t have the right to work here; it’s hardly an economic magnet. 

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Once they are officially recognised as refugees, they can usually stay for up to five years. During that time many of them repay the meagre asylum received many times over – such as by working as much-needed doctors, nurses, cleaners, and so forth.

There are around 26 million refugees in the world. The UK only accommodates a truly tiny number of them – less than 0.5 percent of the total. Most refugees don’t come to the UK, and most don’t want to. But those relatively tiny number that do, often have compelling reasons – such as that they already have family here, can speak English, or were tragically unwelcome in other so-called ‘safe’ countries.

Some of the UK media and politicians have described them as ‘invaders’ and ‘illegal’. Is that really a just or proportionate description? Compare a few thousand displaced, desperate people arriving on our shores in peace and with good intent, with the hundreds of thousands of Britons who, historically, really did invade other countries and with malicious intent.

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Nearly 90 percent of the planet’s nations have at various times in history been taken over by the British, according to the book, All the countries we’ve ever invaded: and the few we never got round to by Stuart Laycock. We mostly didn’t arrive in peace, but often to plunder other nations of their wealth, as well as millions of their people via a vicious slave trade. Laycock states that only 22 of the world’s countries remain untouched by a British intrusion involving “… force, the threat of force, negotiation or payment”.

It could be said that Britons have been the most prolific illegal immigrants in the history of our planet. Indeed, the world order of countries today remains unbalanced due to the past colonial pursuits of Britain and other European countries. Our country’s wealth and relative high standard of living is in great part based on our pillage of the property and people of other countries in the past. Many of those countries today remain poor because of previous colonialism – and it’s many of those countries today that have the greatest numbers of displaced peoples and refugees.

Do we really have a right to complain about a few thousand devastated people arriving on our shores, when it was Britons who, not so long ago, arrived on their shores and caused devastation?

A version of this article first appeared on Jon Danzig’s blog and Facebook page.

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