18 June, 2010


It all depends what you mean by...

(© 1942 Prof CEM Joad.)

BBC radio news, which has been remarkably discreet about the unpleasantness which took place in Barking earlier in the week (see here, here and — NSFW and not for the liberally fastidious — also here), has been telling us repeatedly about the poor old Iraqi refugees/asylum seekers, whatever, who have been repatriated.

Deportees/repatriatees (choose word according to desired direction of spin) have reportedly been beaten by UKBA officers. Sounds nasty, doesn't it? But what exactly does "beaten" imply here? Unprovoked attacks with rubber truncheons by UKBA goons screaming, "Get on/off the fucking plane you filthy scroungeing wog!"?

Or perhaps something driven more by practical necessity? Suppose I had been convicted of a crime, the judge had passed a custodial sentence and, as I sat there in the dock, the escort officers came to take me down. Suppose instead of going quietly, I continued to sit, folded my arms, pursed my lips petulantly and said, "Shan't!". Would the officers say, "Oh, OK then" and let me go home? Suppose when, persuasion having failed, mild force was used to co-erce my co-operation and I began to flail about and lash out. Someone's likely to get hurt, aren't they? And it's almost certainly going to be me.

You might call that getting a beating. Or you might not.

That the Iraqi returnees might be less than willing to acquiesce in the process of return, particularly at the key and vulnerable points of embarcation and disembarcation, that they might choose to put up a fight, that is unsurprising. That they and the British authorities might take differing views of the justification for their return, enforced or consensual, that is unsurprising. And that there should be consequences from the playing out of that conflict of wills, that is equally unsurprising.

It's a shame that the UKBA has not been a little more willing to come forward to defend its position.

I see the UNHCR and others are getting up on their hind legs to tell us how unsafe Iraq is for the returnees. Again this is a matter of interpretation. Yes there is faction fighting and random violence in Iraq. There was faction fighting and random violence in Northern Ireland for 30 years — in a more understated way it's almost certainly still going on. There has been random mass violence in London, launched by the IRA in earlier years with the banner more recently being taken up by some of our Muslim guests. There is everyday violence in London at a personal level. I guess I'll have to take the chance on not being blown up in some future Republican or Islamic atrocity and if I avoid wandering the backstreets of North Peckham at two in the morning I'll probably be safe enough from personal violence. (Looks around hastily for wood to touch.)

No I'm not saying that London is necessarily as dangerous as Baghdad or provincial Iraq. What I am saying is that there are degrees of danger. To send someone back to certain death might be wrong; to send them back to a violent and factionalized environment where they can reasonably expect to find protection within their own faction is another matter. That that environment might not offer the opportunities and comforts of continuing to live in the UK is not our problem and does not constitute grounds for remaining. When you have thrown yourself on the mercy and charity of another nation on the grounds of imminent personal mortal peril but refuse to co-operate with your return when the mortal danger has passed or abated, well that does raise questions about your motives, doesn't it?

It's easy enough for bodies like UNHCR and the usual suspects of the human rights lobbies to stand on the sidelines moralizing and insisting on ideal levels of safety and security, like so many heads of social services or divorce lawyers covering their arses and pontificating about idealized standards and requirements they don't have to fund or achieve themselves.

The rest of us have to live in an imperfect real world and make the best of it.

A modest proposal. You, Ahmed as it may be, say that Iraq is still far too dangerous to return to. I say I think you're exaggerating and that you want to remain in the UK for economic advantage. OK, we'll let you stay here until you feel safe to return, the remainder of your life if you wish. But you will be confined to an internment camp. In modest and reasonable comfort but without access to economic opportunity. Deal?

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