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The Silent Majority Should Stand Up to Welcome Those Fleeing Persecution

21/08/2015 17:19 BST | Updated 21/08/2016 10:59 BST

"The way stateless Jews from Germany are pouring in from every port of this country is becoming an outrage . . .", ran The Daily Mail in 1938.

"Marauding" migrants threaten our standard of living, proclaimed Philip Hammond in 2015.

Note the similarities. The myth of Britain as a benevolent nation which has always welcomed those fleeing persecution is simply not true. Anti-migrant hysteria plagued our shores in the 1930s as much as it does today.

Yarl's Wood is all too reminiscent of the internment camps which housed Jews, Nazi sympathisers and other aliens 70 years ago.

The vast majority of Britains - including those political and media elites who espouse such rhetoric - are no doubt well intentioned. We all support real refugees. It is just the bogus ones we want sent back.

Wherein lies the problem? Why do we still suffer shivers down our spines when we read the words "stateless Jews...pouring in..."?

Well, because language matters. If all action stems from thought, and all thought relies on language; then language determines what does and does not happen.

The language being used is the language of animals - the language of a plague. It portrays these people as three things: a threat, inhuman, and greater in number than they actually are.

This changes public opinion. If the newspapers I read, and the politicians I listen to, use such language then it will filter through. I will start to think of migrants as a threat. I will start to think of migrants as other - as a different sort of human to me. I will start to think of migrants as a swarm.

All subtlety is lost in the language of vitriol. It is no good supporting the real refugees, whilst calling other migrants a swarm. In my apelike brain, the distinction between good real refugees and bad economic migrants becomes unclear. If all I hear is negative language, then all migrants become a threat.

Many bemoan the lack of willingness on the part of migrants to assimilate into British culture. This works both ways: it requires the migrants themselves to want to integrate, but it also requires us to want to help them.

Which side of the equation is letting us down? Is it the young mother fleeing the brutalities of Syria who stubbornly decides not to integrate into British life? Or is it us, not letting her?

The language matters because it creates a false distinction between us and them. It makes us frightened of each other. It makes it harder for both sides of that equation to play their part.

Let me be absolutely clear. These are not economic migrants. These are people fleeing the brutal dictatorship of Eritrea, the brutalities of Syria and Afghanistan and the vicious anarchy of other failed states. For any informed person to say that these people are simply looking for a better life is a cruel perversion of the reality. No-one attempts the perilous journey across the Mediterranean unless they are utterly desperate.

To practicalities. The number of people who have fled to Europe this year is 0.027% of the total population of Europe. The proportion of those who have reached Calais is 1%. This is not an influx to Europe, even less is it an influx to Britain. Britain can cope. Europe can cope.

However, it should not be a matter coping. We should welcome these people because they will thrive in Britain and Britain will thrive because of them. Imagine a 20th century Britain without the influence of Jewish refugees; it would have grown up a poorer place.

The amount of money Britain gives to an asylum seeker is £36.95 a week. Britain has pledged £22million to help improve security at Calais. This money could support over 11,000 refugees for a year. This is ignoring the fact that the majority of these migrants - many of whom are highly educated - will come here to work. Like all of us currently residing on this island, they are people; and like most people they are industrious, curious and creative. They will set up businesses, they will write books, they will become teachers.

We as citizens of Britain should welcome those fleeing persecution with open arms. We should pressure our government to support an EU quota system. We should decry the use of vicious rhetoric wherever it rears its ugly head.

Language matters. Numbers matter too. Anti-migrant hysteria does not have to be the norm. The silent majority can make themselves heard. The more of us who welcome migrants - write positive things - say positive things - do positive things - the better.

What happened to human rights? Have we not learnt from the tragedies of the last century and this one? Let us reclaim language and put Britain where it should be: a beacon of hope in the morass of rhetoric and tragedy which plagues this world.

It is not enough to be in the silent supportive majority. We can balance the voices of division. We can make ourselves heard. We can make a difference.

So let us do it.