Friday, 19 February 2016

Will Migrants Make or Break Europe?

In The Economist on 13th February 2016 there was an advertisement for applications to the Nico Colchester Journalism Fellowship. Write an article of 850 words, it said, on the topic of Will Migrants Make or Break Europe? and if the judges like what you have written you could get a three-month fellowship in the offices of The Economist and an allowance of £6,000.
There was another one last year, and I wrote a piece on the inspiration of that. I didn’t send it in as I have plenty of things to do, I don’t want to be adding on internships at The Economist, instead I put it on this blog, Europe’s Greatest Challenge. I said that challenge was migration. Amazing as it seems now, In April 2015 it was far from obvious that that would be the overriding challenge, here ten months later there can be little doubt about it.
I wonder whether I can be as prescient this time, for I'm going to try another 850 words, again for the interest, I definitely won’t be submitting it. Here is my piece.
Will Migrants Make or Break Europe?
Will migrants make or break Europe? Neither. Nothing so fundamental will change because there is not anything so fundamental that is new. Will the poor make or break Europe? The two questions are linked.
In 2011 there were riots in London, shops were smashed and looted. A young woman in Croydon was interviewed by the television reporter. “The rich people are being targeted . . . we’re just showing the rich people that we can do what we want.”
The young woman lives in a separate world, then, from the rich people. Lives in her particular bubble, with all the others who are, for the most part, just like her, different from all these rich people who “own businesses and things”.
And of course she was wrong. The people in her bubble cannot do just what they want, or not for more than perhaps one evening.
Arif is from a Bangladeshi family in West Yorkshire. He did well in school at Keighley, and went on to a diploma in business studies, then to work at a bank in Leeds. Arif is a big lad and jolly and smiley most of the time. But he began to crack up at the bank. He couldn’t stand it so he left, and after a little time getting body and soul back together he joined the family’s restaurant business. Every day he travels by car to one of the family’s restaurants, which cover a swathe of the country, from Nottingham to Windermere, these travels involve many of the family members and friends, they open the restaurant about five o’clock, wait at tables and field takeaway orders, and stay until the customers have stopped coming around about eleven, and then drive back to their homes in the West Yorkshire towns east of Skipton.
Only the men do that. The women have been to a British comprehensive school too, and learned and been encouraged to stand as an independent human being. They have heard all that, and then they leave school, get married, and have children as the custom decrees. You can see them standing at the school gates in the afternoon, and you look in their eyes and wonder, are they thinking, is this all there is? It is yet another bubble. Perfectly integrated, yet separate.
How can you be integrated and separate? The bubbles can rub along with each other just fine. They always have, the problem arises when those people who believe their bubble is the only one, who believe that theirs is the only worthwhile way of being, find themselves forced to learn that it isn’t. It can be very disconcerting.
In the old days bubbles were simpler to determine, there were rich bubbles and poor bubbles and middle-class bubbles and special-interest bubbles and sexual-preference bubbles, they all got along swimmingly because they knew their place. But if you suddenly find there are ten types of middle-class bubble, and that your own one may not be the only way, then uncertainty and resentment can cut in.
Governments have not really learned how to cope with this yet, they have to try and uphold the myth that everyone’s bubble is the only true way. Somehow.
Can it last? Yes, it has to. Bubbles will not all burst and merge. What cannot last, for it never has, is trying to isolate people in camps in the hope that they’ll somehow disappear and everything can carry on comfortably like it always did. Camps, especially those where the people in them have little hope of moving on and out, will be trouble. And every little trouble now will grow into a bigger trouble later.
Britain’s most troublesome camp, probably Europe's most troublesome, is in Calais. It cannot continue. There will be trouble, and if not from the migrant residents then from the local residents. A twelve-minute heartfelt tale of woe got a standing ovation at a meeting organised by an anti-immigration group in northern France. Simone Hericourt said she was an ordinary native of Calais, whose life is being made miserable by all the immigrants, the streets are no longer safe and neither are people in their houses. It was classic anti-immigrant stuff, with possibly a grain of truth, though clearly it cannot be as widespread as the relater is telling us.
But a lot of people believe it, and a lot of people can cause a lot of trouble. And what is the solution? Throwing ever more money at the status quo cannot be an answer, the status quo will only get worse.
That camp in Calais is an emblem of the migration crisis in Europe. Britain is going to have to let in some if not all of the people, who can then be assessed and some can be deported, but one way or another, making that camp obsolete is going to have to happen. Politicians cannot close their eyes to it forever, it is going to bite them while they sleep.
Migrants will not break Europe. They might break apart a British government though. How long off? One year? Two?
The young woman in Croydon:
That’s my 850-word piece. As with my previous one I’m not 100 per cent satisfied with it, I think it’s a bit disjointed and not punchy enough on making its points, but there it is for the moment, it was a decent challenge writing it, and when the muse arrives I might try and make it a bit zippier. And we shall have to see whether, as with my previous piece, I turn out to have been right.