Britain does not have the right to leave the European Union merely on the grounds that their migration policy is opening the country for too many refugees. Legally, yes, they have the right to exit the EU. Morally, there is no doubt about what they should do. But this is not simply about having sympathy for refugees. This is bigger than that. Britain does not have the right to leave because they have a historical responsibility to stay and take care of the mess they were a part of creating.
Not too long ago, when my parents still were young, a big part of the global south was controlled by European powers. When we speak of the concept of colonialism we often imagine events that happened centuries ago. People can even get annoyed when you bring it up - as if it is a thing of the past, long ago archived in the history books. But in reality, it was not that long ago. Britain has the same queen now as they had for the last 45 of years of their empire. People still own clothing from that time. And when Britain handed over its last colony, I was one year old. I am nineteen.
Britain was considered the most successful colonizer. They were the empire on which the sun never set.
Even though all of this is in the past, the consequences are not. The people of Asia, Africa and Latin America are still suffering from colonialism, and the people of Europe are still benefiting from it. That is a non-negotiable, indisputable fact. I am not pointing this out to simply put blame, but in order for you to recognize your political responsibilities.
Our present was not created in a vacuum, the past carefully carved it out. Our present is defined by every past military action, war, invasion, economical agreement, news article, decision, regulation, law, and election. The list could go on and on. Our entire world order was shaped by colonialism; the neo colonial policies that were born out of it, world structures, distribution of wealth, beauty standards, wars...you get the point. It might have happened in the past but the consequences live with us to this day.
Let me give you my country Eritrea as an example.
During the Berlin Conference, when European leaders sat down with a map and decided to divide up Africa using a ruler, Italy seized what is today Eritrea as a colony. Eritrea had never been its own country, instead it had always been a part of Ethiopia. During the Second World War, Italy lost Eritrea to Britain. During these years, Britain seriously damaged the country's infrastructure and economy.
At the end of the war Britain was left to decide what to do with Eritrea. Those long years of Italian colonization and British rule had created a unity amongst the Eritreans, an identity. They did not want to go back to becoming a part of Ethiopia, they were now Eritreans, they wanted to be independent. Although Britain and the United States recognized this desire, they wanted to reward Ethiopia for their support to the allies. In 1952, a UN mandate, pushed hard by Britain, made Eritrea a part of Ethiopia. 10 years later, the Eritrean war of independence began. Isaias Afewerki, the guerilla leader that lead Eritrea to victory, is now the country's first and only president. His policies and actions since he gained power in 1991 have lead to Eritrea being described as one of the most closed yet brutal dictatorships in the world.
Today, the third biggest refugee group coming to Europe are Eritreans.
It is impossible for me or anyone to know what the alternatives would have looked like, I can only talk about the present and what factors lead to forming it. Therefore, it is very important to be reminded that it is an indisputable fact that Britain's past actions have had a hand in creating the current situation in Eritrea. Once again, this is not about putting blame, it is about recognizing responsibility and forming the dialogue around that instead.
I am not asking you to open your hearts, I am not asking you to imagine what it would have been like to be a refugee. I am not even asking you to imagine what it was for that Eritrean woman who drowned in the Mediterranean while giving birth. I am simply asking you to look at your life, your country and your place in the world. The sun might have set, but the benefits you have from those times are more than alive. Recognize that none of that came for free, that all of that had a price. Shoulder your responsibilities and clean up the mess.