Friday, 28 August 2015

Finding Home; Real Stories of Migrant Britain, by Emily Dugan

This morning (28/08/2015) the first two stories in the news were the following:
1) That a refrigerated lorry found abandoned in a layby on the Austria/Hungary border contained the partially decomposed bodies of at least 70 'migrants'.
2) That two boats have sunk off the coast of Libya, which combined, are thought to have been carrying up to 500 people escaping Bangladesh, Libya and various sub-Saharan African countries.

What's even worse is that barely a week goes by without several headlines like this. Migration, immigration, illegal immigration, asylum seeking, whatever you want to call it, whatever terms news outlets are using the dehumanise and scaremonger, this book is a welcome, truthful and unflinching look at the lives of the people that are trying desperately to find a safe and secure place to live their lives.

Finding Home looks at the unique stories of 10 individuals- something which in itself is unusual. Every day we're presented with images and footage of teeming masses of people, crowds scrambling over razor wire, desolate canvas ghettoes full of women and kids, masses of heads and shoulders poking out of the top of a boat that looks like its most buoyant days are behind it- we rarely look at the individuals. We never really get to find out what's brought these people to this point? What are they escaping and what do they hope to find? Has anybody asked? We're told benefits and an easy life, but that's really, really not the case with most. It's not always war, it's not always work, it's not always a choice. What I love about this book is that it makes individuals out of that teeming mass, the 'Plague of migrants' that our media condemns as work-shy scroungers and criminals, it presents them as humans. It's unflinching in its honesty and it really makes the reader think about what they'd do in these people's shoes.

Journalist Emily Dugan features stories from the following people, creating portraits of individual people who are all struggling against different obstacles to call Britain their home.

  • Ummad, a student at Sunderland Uni from a wealthy business family in Pakistan. The branch of Islam followed be he and his family is considered heretical in Pakistan, and his family are in constant danger because of this.
  • Harley, an Australian children's psychologist and NHS expert with 10+ years of service, facing deportation after the breakdown of her marriage to a European.
  • Clive, a homeless Zimbabwean that entered the UK illegally and has spent the last 6 years trying to go home. His lack of passport makes this impossible. He can neither work, nor recieve citizenship either. He is stateless.
  • Physiotherapist Hristina, leaving behind her baby in her beloved home country of Bulgaria, came to the UK with her husband in order to be able to provide a better life for her family, as low wages and high living costs make this impossible in Bulgaria. She misses home and her family every day.
  • Syrian refugee Emad is a political exile due to his setting up the Free Syrian League. Though now having refugee status, he previously worked illegally to fund his mother's visa-less passage out of Turkey into the EU. She was also in danger due to her son's infamy but getting into Britain is just the beginning of the battle.
  • Sai is a Thai woman married to an older Glaswegian man. Even Harry, her Scottish husband thinks he would fail the UK citizenship test.
  • Hassiba came from Algeria to be with her Husband who had settled in the UK. A promising geneticist, the only work she can find in the UK is mopping the floor of a kebab shop. She is unenamoured with Britain, struggling to cope with the racism, grim weather, lack of opportunities and the drug culture of her estate.
  • Aderonke, a prominent LGBT campaigner from Manchester who would've been murdered for her sexuality in her home country of Nigeria. The Home Office did not believe she was A) gay, or B) in any danger if deported.
There are also two more general case studies, one looking at the town of boson in Lincolnshire, an example of thoroughly mismanaged immigration, resentment by locals of the town's Eastern European reinvention and botched integration, and a trip on a coach from Romania to London on the day the Romania/Bulgaria workers' restrictions were lifted. 

It's hard to summarise these stories, but I just wanted to give an idea of the range of reasons that people leave their homes, families and lives, and the range of reasons that take them where they end up. Ummad and Emad in particular have harrowing histories- both just want an education and to be able to live by their own conscience and moral compasses, but dominant ideologies in their home countries make refugees of them, and make tragic messes of their families.

This book is honest and so eye-opening. I don't know whether it made me feel grateful for living in a (comparatively) liberal and secure society, or enraged at the way our government treats anybody who didn't have the foresight to be born within the UK's borders. I couldn't decide if Britain was a safe haven, and pleased that it was such, or a nightmare of bureaucracy, arbitrary rules, underfunded departments struggling to process paperwork, judgement and persecution. Each of the stories was so different, experiences so varied that it was impossible to decide. The Home Office are sometimes the saviours, sometimes the villains. That idea of duality cropped up a lot- the idea of being a bit of both. Two nationalities blended together, or both, or neither. Polish dad Karol watched an England vs Poland football match wearing a Poland shirt and an England scarf. It must be a huge blow to the identity to find yourself living overseas.

I liked the book's thoroughly level headed approach to its subject. It doesn't make all 'migrants' out to be glorious saints, toiling hard at the jobs that the British turn their noses up at- it does not omit any jail time its subjects might have served, addictions, any debt that they are in, any mistakes or bad decisions they have made are presented as honestly as any triumphs they have achieved. It does, however, show the resilience and determination of people that are often persecuted or judged for simply living somewhere else. Despite the isolation, depression, separation, trauma and everything else that many of these individuals had escaped, I had to admire their attempts to start again.

This book couldn't be more important. Or more topical, or more timely. Every person that has ever rolled their eyes at a Polski Sklep on the empty end of their high street needs to read this. Every person who has ever uttered the phrase 'Go Back to Your Own Country' needs to read this. Everybody that has ever complained about delays on the Eurotunnel needs to read this. If you're a person with an ounce of empathy, you need to read this. I will be recommending this book whenever I get UKIPped, whenever the topic of immigration comes up and whenever anybody asks me for a good non fiction.

Thankyou to Stevie Finegan (@SableCaught) for bringing this book to my attention, and for sending me a copy.

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