30 December, 2008


Failing in Falinge

I must admit I'd never heard of the place, despite growing up about 12 miles away. Apparently it is pronounced to rhyme with fail - whinge, which seems either appropriate or ironic, depending on your take on the matter. Perhaps they ought to consider renaming it. Suggestions on a postcard please.

This Rochdale district seems to have come to presumably unwelcome national notice as a result of a GMTV (sic) investigation into poverty and long-term unemployment. Parachute in Lorraine Kelly and Mark Heyes with a few fashion tips; that should sort it out. Since then Falinge has been held up by various newspapers as an examplar for the sickness benefit culture.

The benefit-dependency issues have been discussed elsewhere. Here I am more interested in the Daily Mail's report. Predictably, the Mail contrives to spin its report into an attack on "asylum seekers" by selecting as its sample interviewees one Celestine Sejemani and his family.

In fact the asylum-seeking aspects of Mr Sejemani's case do merit further attention in their own right. Mr Sejemani claims to have fled ethnic violence in the Congo, violence which resulted in the death of two close relatives. He claimed and was granted asylum in the UK and elected to live in Rochdale because of the presence of a Congolese community there. (Congolese in Rochdale? Ee bah eck, bugger me, thur's a turn oop for t' books! Whatever next?) Having achieved ILR status and having settled in, he sent for his "partner" and child to join him. They have since had three further children, born in the UK. Mr Sejemani receives disability benefit on the grounds of his eyesight problems, claimed to be the result of being imprisoned in the dark when he was being persecuted in the Congo. He claims to be unable to work because of this disability.

I have a number of impertinent questions.

Firstly, why is he unable to work? The Mail makes great play of the family's giant flatscreen television, which Mr Sejemani claims is necessary because of his poor eyesight. Evidently he is partially sighted, not blind. I know a number of brave people, entirely without sight, who undertake complicated daily commutes to work in Central London. If Mr Sejemani's limited eyesight prevents him from working in his original trade of mechanic, doubtless he can be retrained for something more suitable. And why is his "partner" being paid as a full-time carer?

Turning to Mr Sejemani's claim for refugee status, he claims that his father and sister were killed because of their ethnicity. It is reasonable then that he would wish to flee the obvious danger to his own life. In his situation, why did he flee to the UK? If he was in fear of his life, it should have been possible for him to flee to a part of the Congo or into some neighbouring country where his ethnic grouping is dominant and where he would have been safe. Or were there perhaps additional motives behind his choice of destination? I wonder what they might have been. If, for some hard-to-imagine reason, it was absolutely "necessary" for him to flee to Europe, then why did he not flee to Paris, the old colonial power, and claim asylum there? (The wording of the Mail article seems to imply Congo-Brazzaville, but if we are talking about Congo-Kinshasa instead just substitute Brussels for Paris; it makes little difference to the point.)

People are displaced all the time because ethnic tensions boil over. They move back to the comfort and protection of their own tribal group. Why did not Mr Sejemani do this?

His "partner" ("long-time girlfriend" per the Mail) is even more intriguing. While Mr Sejemani fled to the welcoming arms of the UK's welfare system, partner Pierette and their child remained in the Congo. Were they somehow magically safe from the attentions of the thugs who had driven out her man? Why did they not pick on her as a proxy for the now unreachable Celestine?

There are huge holes in this story. If Mr Sejemani was persecuted and was in fear of his life as he claims, then he deserves our sympathy, but unless alternative means of saving his neck and those of his family were demonstrably unavailable, he is not deserving of our protection. Even if the UK were his only practicable immediate bolt-hole, that should not mean a right to permanent settlement and family reunion in this country, merely temporary protection until a suitable solution could be found back in his homeland.

We simply cannot afford to fling open our gates to every last waif and stray in the world without destroying our country. On the steam wireless this morning, someone was banging on about the Bangadesh general election and the problems that country faces. When the tide of "refugees" and economic migrants has overwhelmed Britain until it, like Bangladesh, is a failed state with 150million largely Third World inhabitants, will the countries of Africa and Asia accept us few remaining Europeans desperately seeking "a better life"? Can't see it myself.

It will all end in tears.

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