Dear Asylum Seekers,
First of all, welcome to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland - the cumbersome name of my home country, a name that not many of my fellow Brits actually know. We tend to call ourselves English, Scots, Northern Irish or Welsh.
I don't know your personal story, ethnicity, religion, or if you had a traumatic journey here but I'm very glad you came and I'm sure many Brits would agree with me. Not only are we sympathetic to your plight (escaping terror and poverty at home) but we need you.
An open capitalist economy like Britain needs a constant supply of labour to do all the difficult jobs that need to be done. Every year we need large numbers of engineers, doctors, IT specialists as well as drivers, cleaners and construction workers - especially when the economy is doing well -- and there are not enough skilled Brits available for work. If it wasn't for immigrants our National Health Service would have collapsed long ago, our IT sector would be a shadow of itself and many businesses wouldn't be able to find staff.
I am convinced that immigrant workers are more enthusiastic about the jobs they get than locals; they are more likely to be grateful for the salary than a Brit would be and more open to learning. I learned this when I got a job on a Viennese building site in 1986 and have heard stories confirming it ever since. I was so glad to have got that job in Vienna, and so desperate to keep it, that I worked harder than anyone else on the site. Brits are allowed to work anywhere in the world but we're no hardworking or honest than any other people.
The British Government know that immigrants are a Godsend to our economy, a view that is backed up by the trade unions and the IOD (Institute of Directors) - Britain's "most authoritative free-market business group". This article by the IOD points out that immigrants contribute up to £14 billion a year to the economy, and "businesses are crying out for a highly-qualified, highly-skilled, international workforce."
The above article also points out that the biggest group of migrants to the UK are actually students from non-EU countries -- all of whom pay top dollar -- not Romanian and Bulgarian welfare scroungers or illegal immigrants from the Middle East. It's worth keeping this fact in mind as we try to sort out fact from fiction in this increasingly fractious debate.
Why the Hostility?
It must come as a nasty shock to you that after getting to a country which needs immigrants you are treated so harshly. It must be confusing to meet people who are friendly, helpful and genuinely want you to be here - which many of us do -- and then have to deal with a legal system (the asylum claim process) that is cruel, unfair and seems to be designed to keep you out.
I visited Ewan Roberts at an impressive refugee centre in Liverpool who said "the fact that asylum claimants can't work is the number one cause of mental illness among them." He showed me page after page of official statistics which show that the number of asylum applicants haven't risen sharply this year and said the real beneficiaries of our "harsh" system are big companies that get government contracts for housing the refugees (some in hotels and some in prison) and transporting them around.
You might ask Why are so many Brits against immigrants? Why are you treated like criminals by the courts? Why are you given free housing and a cash subsidy but not allowed to work? Doesn't this cost the government a fortune and prevent you from contributing?
The answer to this question is...the tabloid media. This may seem like an outrageous slur on our best-selling papers but their business model is based upon scaring people. Tabloid readers are fed a daily menu of statistics, incidents and half-truths that create the impression that our country is being taken over by Muslim immigrants, some of whom may be terrorists, and that our way of life is under threat. They don't explain that Islam has a tolerant, creative side to it and the vast majority of Muslims don't support the extremism of ISIS.
The tabloids also use other items to scare their readers -- Jeremy Corbyn, the EU, Romanian gypsies -- but the migration-across-Europe story, EU open borders as well as the Syrian war gives them an endless supply of scare stories.
A longer version of this article can be seen on my personal blog, including some examples of media manipulation and a definition of the term "propaganda"