English Channel migrants would prove Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and small-minded racists wrong if we let them – Susan Dalgety

Donald Trump and Nigel Farage thought Angela Merkel was finished after she gave sanctuary to refugees from Syria, but Germany is starting to reap the rewards, writes Susan Dalgety.

An army Watchkeeper drone is being used for surveillance flights over the English Channel by the Border Force (Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The elderly man grunted, and turning to his companion, said, “There’s a lot of people from not round here.”

A strange observation from someone living in a seaside town. After all, Eastbourne on the East Sussex coast owes its very existence to strangers coming to visit.

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It is one of the UK’s earliest seaside resorts, given a Royal seal of approval in 1780 when four of George III’s children came for their summer holidays.

Victorian villas, now hotels, line its extensive seafront, and its pebble beach stretches for four miles to Beachy Head. Strangers are Eastbourne’s lifeblood.

But as I glanced up, I saw that the “people” the grumpy old man was complaining about were black. He wasn’t moaning about day-trippers, he was just a bog-standard racist, scared of people whose skin is a different colour from his pale face. There are a lot of them about.

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Sadly, some of the furore over the desperate people who make the perilous journey across the English Channel to seek refuge and a new life in Britain feels like it has its roots in racism.

If the young men and children who tumbled exhausted from flimsy boats onto the Kent shore were Caucasian, would they would be greeted with warmth by the local community?

Instead, they are met by hostility from fake Trumps such as Nigel Farage, screaming about “shocking invasions” and disdain from the mean-spirited Immigration Minister, Chris Philip, who insists they must be sent back.

“Those feeling persecution have had many opportunities to claim asylum in the European countries they have passed through, long before they attempt (the Channel) crossing,” he told the House of Commons on Wednesday, with as little compassion as he could muster.

He added, “It serves both French and UK interests to cut off this route.”

But does it? Would it not serve the UK’s interests better if we opened our arms to refugees and asylum seekers, as Angela Merkel did five years ago, and as Gary Lineker is doing today.

The former England footballer says he is keen to offer a home to a young refugee. “My kids are all grown up so I’ve got plenty of room, so if I can help on a temporary basis then I’m more than happy to do so. Why not?” he said earlier this week.

Merkel’s approach was just as pragmatic. “Wir schaffen das – we will manage this,” she told the German people on 31 August 2015, as tens of thousands of migrants crossed over into Germany.

Populists such as Donald Trump warned that Merkel had made a “catastrophic mistake” and Nigel Farage – yes, him again – told anyone who would listen that Merkel was “finished”.

Today, Angela Merkel is still the world’s most powerful woman. and unelected Nigel Farage is left spewing bile on beaches.

It would be naïve to suggest the German experience was easy, or that challenges don’t still remain, but an analysis by Phillip Oltermann in last Sunday’s Observer suggests that Merkel’s open-door policy is paying off. More than half of the refugees are now in work, and crucially paying tax. Thousands are enrolling in university, significantly increasing Germany’s skills base.

And a heart-warming poll shows that more than 80 per cent of young refugees say they have “a strong sense of belonging to their German schools and feel liked by their peers”.

Human beings have always moved across borders and oceans, sometimes to escape war, famine or persecution, other times out of a sense of adventure, to build a better life.

Migration is good for the economy, any economy. A recent report by the OECD suggests that migrants boost the local labour market, so increasing productivity. They pay more in income tax than they receive in benefits, as Germany is proving, and they often bring new skills and ideas.

America’s economic success, from the might of its agricultural industry to the innovations of Silicon Valley which are changing our world, owes much to immigration, an inescapable fact clearly lost on Donald J Trump, himself the son of an immigrant from Scotland. And annual remittances – money sent from migrants back to their families in low-income countries – are three times the size of development aid. As we teeter on the edge of a no-deal Brexit, now is not the time to be closing our borders. Instead we should be throwing them open. The government’s new points-based system sets out three main tests for getting a UK visa. Applicants must have a job offer from “an approved employer”, be able to speak English and earn at least £25,600 a year, or £20,480 for certain jobs in health and education.

So far, so conservative as this approach applies to less than 10 per cent of the world’s population.

Imagine, instead, a world where labour was truly mobile, where the poor could make the move that would change their lives as easily as the lucky few. A respected think tank, the Centre for Global Development (CGD), argues that, with proper oversight, the world could become one big workplace.

Its thesis is straightforward. High-income countries – including Scotland – are facing a demographic time-bomb, with a rapidly growing older population that depends on pensions and health services paid for by the taxes of those in work, but the working-age population is shrinking and will soon be unable to sustain adequate social protection. Conversely, low-income countries are experiencing significant population growth, but according to CGD, by 2050 around 40 per cent of working-age people will be unable to find meaningful employment at home. Should they starve? Or could they, as the centre suggests, become members of a new “globally mobile workforce”.

“Such an arrangement would be a powerful tool toward poverty alleviation,” asserts a recent report by the think tank. “Workers who find jobs in richer countries can expect to increase their income by six to 15 times. These income gains make mobility more powerful in fighting poverty than even gold-standard development interventions.”

The idea of a properly regulated, globally mobile workforce may sound far-fetched, and it would require a level of co-operation between countries that, at the moment, seems unlikely, but it should not be dismissed. Covid-19 has turned our world upside down, so there is no better time for new thinking.

But first it requires old men in Eastbourne to judge people “by the content of their character”, as Martin Luther King argued, and “not the colour of their skin”.

And we could start by giving sanctuary to the 5,000 people who have spilled on to the beaches of Kent this year and supporting them to build a new life in the country they have risked their lives to reach.

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