Jane Bradley: Only closed hearts could close borders

REFUGEES who want to live legally in the West are seeking peace and stability, not more unrest, writes Jane Bradley
Controversial presidential candidate, Donald Trump. Picture: John DevlinControversial presidential candidate, Donald Trump. Picture: John Devlin
Controversial presidential candidate, Donald Trump. Picture: John Devlin

Dear Donald Trump... it is nearly Christmas, and whatever your beliefs (indeed, I have read that you claim to be a good Christian, specifically, in fact, you collect Bibles, though I’m not convinced any of this is proof of your goodness), this should be a time for joy, family, happiness.

I bet you, Donald, have lots of lovely plans for Christmas. Being American, your giant house is probably already decked with boughs of holly, multiple trees laden with twinkling lights and decorations and neatly gift-wrapped parcels nestling under their branches.

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But instead of spreading and sharing this privileged joy, you are creating division in a world which already has far too much division.

Your suggestion that all Muslims should be banned from the US, Donald, was ridiculous. You know it was, I know it was.

The thing is, you know you’re losing and you just want a last hurrah of media fanfare. But this shouldn’t be about politics, Donald, this isn’t about policy, it is about humanity. And you, as an American and we as Scots, indeed, all of us as human beings, have a duty to care for our fellow planet dwellers.

In recent weeks, I have spoken to people who are close to the refugee crisis – both those who have experienced it themselves and others who are doing what they can to help those in crisis.

I have had the privilege of meeting a group of refugees who have settled in Scotland – three nicer, more intelligent and personable human beings I would struggle to find.

I have also spent time with Scots volunteers who have given up their time tirelessly to help people whose lives have been thrown into turmoil, who are living in limbo in refugee camps where sewage is flowing through the streets; who are walking, some of them in their bare feet, pregnant, carrying children, across Europe.

Try to imagine that, from the comfort of your own, luxurious home – where you have nothing better to do than tell these people that they should go back to where they came from, back to war, destruction and suffering.

Imagine it is you who is barefoot. Your children do not have enough to eat. Imagine, that this is your child – Tiffany, or Ivanka or Donald Junior. Imagine that you have had to sit with that child every night, trying to comfort him as an air strike whizzes past your house and explodes over the next street. You’ve had to comfort him without knowing whether his fears – that you may be next – could become true.

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What terrifies me is that it is not just you, Donald, who seems unable to comprehend this – a problem which you are not helping. Whatever your politics, whatever your beliefs on immigration, do not blame these people, who are in desperate circumstances.

Accusations have been levelled at refugees of being “economic migrants”, just because they made the choice that certain countries or cities might be easier places for them to start a new life than others.

Sitting there in Trump Tower, you are maybe oblivious to the truth. Let me explain. Their lives as they knew them – friends, family, studies, job prospects – have been wiped out. They may have some acquaintances somewhere who could help smooth a move – after all, pre-2011, it was just as likely that a Syrian, like sheep geneticist Amer Masri whom I met in Edinburgh three weeks ago, could have visited Scotland on a study exchange; or even been on holiday – as Brits and Americans do all the time.

Language is also a potential issue.

According to a report by the Open University, the two main languages taught in Syrian schools are French and English. Is it a surprise, therefore, that people would want to settle in a country where they have some familiarity with the language? Where they have a chance of getting their linguistic skills honed to a point that they might be able to get a job in that country? Make themselves useful? Earn money? Pay taxes?

Do you really blame them?

Put yourself in their shoes. You probably learned Spanish at school, many moons ago. Imagine now, being expected to make a living for yourself and your family by getting a job where you had to work, all day, every day, in Spanish. Hard, eh? Imagine now, doing the same in Tokyo, or Moscow, where not even the alphabet is the same.

I have some experience of living alone in a foreign culture, Donald. Perhaps you don’t. When I was 22, I decided – just for fun – to move to a new country on my own. I thought it would be easy. It wasn’t. Because living alone in a foreign country, especially one where you do not speak the language, is hard. Just going to the market to buy food was terrifying. Alien. Stressful.

But I did it for fun. And fun it was, once I’d settled in, learned a bit of the local language and found myself a network of friends. But I had an escape route, the knowledge that home was behind me – the difference is enormous.

And what is more, most Syrians 
coming to the West want to work. Those who do not want to work and who want to use vicarious means – begging, stealing – to make money, do not need the legal right to live somewhere. They will find a means to get in illegally. But those who want to work will be able to do so more readily somewhere where they speak the language. This isn’t some way of dodging the system – this is common sense. No, the people who want to be housed in the UK and the US do so because they want an identity, a new life – not hiding away behind fake papers and living on the streets.

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Meanwhile, those who criticise “economic migrants” are probably the same people whose own sons and daughters are enjoying the freedom of a British or US passport to travel the world before they settle down, or perhaps live in a country where they can make a better living – shock – than they can at home. Many are probably enjoying the economic benefits of Middle Eastern nations such as Dubai or Qatar.

If we’re going to be all closed borders about it, let’s repatriate all of those ex-pat Scots and Americans – let’s bring them all home. After all, they’re a burden on a country which is not their own.

Economic migrants, wouldn’t you say, Donald?

Merry Christmas.