Speaking for Ourselves



Jason Bergen

 Migrant Voice -
 Migrant Voice - #MigrantLivesMatter

This past week has not been an easy time for migrants and those that support them. The tragedy of another 400 sisters and brothers dying in the Mediterranean was compounded by the vile callousness of a commentator given voice in a national paper and then a at least a further 600 fellow humans drowning over the weekend.

Last year the Mare Nostrum mission (of search and rescue) in the Mediterranean was stopped by the UK and other EU countries under the premise that it was a ‘pull’ factor (good pieces about how we got to this point politically have been written including by our trustee Professor Heaven Crawley).

Many were shocked last year by the inhumanity but also knew this wouldn’t deter people fleeing persecution or seeking a better life for themselves and their families. Previous governments had tried similar ‘preventative’ measures in the past. Taking away the right to work for people seeking sanctuary while their cases were processed had not deterred people. Tightening social welfare support to inhumane levels also had not lowered numbers of refugees or migrants. This was not why migrants came as the governments own studies had shown. However for governments it was and has been about public perception (in my opinion often heavily influenced by their own political rhetoric) and migrants have been easy targets.

Two years ago I wrote ‘When Rhetoric becomes Policy’  sadly this week we have come full circle. When Ms Hopkins wrote what she did regarding migrants it is sadly a reflection of elements of a ‘deterrence’ policy already in place. For many of our members the sentiment and language used on top of tragic, and many preventable, deaths referring to us as vermin and cockroaches has been appalling and indeed hurtful.

Many pieces have been written this weekend affirming basic decency and humanity, while others such as playwright Anders Lustgarten reminds us of our responsibility. (his play also reviewed on www.migrantvoice.org )

While a grim week that got worse over the weekend. We have been heartened at the numerous journalists requests to include ‘migrant voices’ and have tried to respond with our members and spokespeople. It was also a hopeful weekend on social media as a number of people referred to us as a ‘voice’ of migrants. This was undoubtedly helped by last weeks launches of our annual paper #MVNewspaper15 and our membership in the campaign #IAmAnImmigrant and ‘Bloody Foreigners’ as well as other initiatives in an election period. It has been heartening to receive 500 new followers on our Twitter account and amazingly only positive interactions.

It seems that more than 1000 migrant deaths causes many to take notice. For others sadly there will be agreement with sentiments expressed by Ms. Hopkins that must be combated. For us, and it seems a growing tide, ONE death is too many. We notice. We will fight on in solidarity with our old and new friends.

Jason is Chair of MV since its inception and a Canadian migrant working in the UK since 2000. He is a PhD candidate in journalism examining media influence on public attitudes to poverty and migration and currently working in London to finance the last hurdle!