You may or may not have seen that the UK are now housing 500 immigrants on a barge off the island of Portland, on the south coast of England. As a man who was born and bred in Weymouth, I thought I’d share some thoughts. They might just be thought-provoking and perhaps some satire thrown in for good measure, so I hope you can distinguish the difference.
As it’s been well documented in the national UK news this week a barge ship will house 500 immigrants that are seeking asylum. Another chapter in the management of immigration from the UK government.
This week even saw police have to separate rival protestors from the ‘We don’t want a barge here’ side and ‘Don’t house immigrants on a barge’ side. The barge named the ‘Bibby Stockholm’ has been introduced as a step between the ‘Put immigrants on a flight to Rwanda’ and to lower government and tax-payers costs of housing immigrants in hotels, which is said to be costing six million pounds per day for 51,000 immigrants. Now opposers of the barge are saying that won’t even bring the cost down by 1% and could even be more expensive.
The Stand Up to Racism campaigners claim the No to the Barge Facebook page is a “cesspit” of hate. Asylum seekers are sometimes labelled “rapefugees, channel rats or gimmergrants”
So, the questions… Why are people opposing it?
Firstly, there’s a fear of immigrants. There have been evident concerns in the comments sections of social media that the men will flee the ship, cause crime, and even kill innocent locals. I went to a comedy show on Friday evening where the opening comedian asked “Is anyone in from Portland tonight?” After a few audience members raised their hands, he replied with ‘You managed to get here without being raped and murdered then?’ There was an ironic laugh amongst the audience.
I think a question that should be asked is, Why 500 single men?
If it was 500 families, married couples, women, and children would there be so much concern? As far as I know, the men haven’t asked to be on a ship of just 500 men. So why has the government decided to only house men? There’s even talk that they are trying to infiltrate an army from within. When I say ‘They’, I’ve heard it’s the Middle East sending young soldiers over. Like a modern-day Trojan War, where the soldiers aren’t arriving hidden in a big Trojan Horse that will sit in Easton Square, but flee a container ship barge named Bibby Stockholm. They pulled it off in the tale of Greek Mythology in 1184 BC, so why can’t they pull it off in Weymouth and Portland in 2023?
Why would the UK government and media want to cause a division among people?
Well, divide and conquer.
Where to aim your energy?
I was asked last week ‘What are your views on this barge coming in then?’ My reply was I have spent no time thinking about it. I had no views. I actually said ‘Unless you’re going to stand up Portland with your protest sign or write to your local MP with your opinions then what does it matter?’
And yet, a few days later here I am writing a blog about it purely because it’s topical, local to where I live, I’m the son of an immigrant and I’m after more subscribers to my blog.
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And we’re back…
So, what does being the son of an immigrant have to do with this? Well, I’ll explain.
My dad fled Iran in the ’70s during the Iranian Revolution. He ended up in Weymouth where he’s spent over forty years. He arrived on his own at sixteen years old, couldn’t speak English, and was single. He met a number of other Iranians that had also fled the Middle East. Much like the immigrants arriving now.
Why does that matter?
My dad studied a civil engineering degree and worked for Weymouth and Portland Council and Dorset County Council for many years. He designed and constructed many things that you see and use around Weymouth, Portland and Dorchester. My immigrant Dad built stuff. Alleviated flood and drainage systems, refurbished Tudor Arcade in Dorchester, and improved local highway systems.
He set up his own construction company and with another Iranian architect went on to build many buildings around Weymouth, Portland, and Dorchester.
After a career in construction he went on to own several bars and nightclubs in Weymouth.
Over the years through construction and nightlife my immigrant Dad has employed thousands of local people, provided local roads to drive on, and if you’ve had a drink in Weymouth, it’s probably been in one of my dads bars.
Along with his ‘foreign’ friends they own many buildings and businesses across Weymouth. You won’t have to drive far to see a building owned by someone ‘foreign’ in Weymouth, who once was and still are immigrants. There are successful immigrants that create and put back into the community. There are also bad immigrants. There are also good people from Weymouth and bad people from Weymouth.
I don’t expect these few words to change the opinions of anyone. If you’re fearful, then you’re fearful. You only have to open the comments section of a Dorset Echo post or read a Facebook group devoted to not allowing immigrants to see where the problems really lie.
The term immigrant even holds a negative connotation. There is a correlation between where you’re from and if you’re an immigrant or an ex-pat. It seems like anyone moving to the UK is an immigrant. If it’s someone from the UK moving abroad they’re an expat. The actual term for an immigrant is moving to a new country to live permanently, whereas an expat moves abroad temporarily. Many Polish people were living in the UK before Brexit and many of them moved back. They were ex-pats. Not immigrants. Whereas a few of my friends from Weymouth have moved permanently to the US, Australia and even (whisper it) the Middle East. (UAE). They are immigrants. Not expats.
Does skin colour matter?
The immigrants trying to find asylum are mainly from Eastern Europe or the Middle East. We seem to be fed negative language about 500 men on this ship. Words like ‘invading’ and ‘swarming’ are used to describe immigrants that aren’t white. When the UK government offered families £500 to house Ukrainian refugees in their homes, people were described as ‘saints’ for letting them in. Just a thought. They are both from war-stricken countries based thousands of miles from the UK. Why the support for one and not the other?
I’m not here to point fingers. Not at protestors (from either side), or immigrants on a boat (Men or otherwise). But to open up discussion and thoughts from the son of an immigrant. Born in Weymouth Hospital. I wasn’t even aware I was ‘foreign’ until someone told me at school once. I’m from Weymouth.
So… What’s the solution?
Here are some options if you’d like to have an opinion on 500 random men that will live on a barge off the isle of Portland.
- If you have no plans to take action, feel free to say ‘I have no opinion towards it’
- If you feel like you need to join in with a conversation, but still haven’t made your mind up you could say phrases like ‘I don’t know enough about the full details to give an opinion.’ Are they illegal immigrants, How long will they stay for? Will they be re-homed on Portland? If you don’t know information on a subject, It’s ok to say you don’t know.
- Write to your local MP or councillor that you feel uneasy or support refugees. Make sure to note down who is saying what and then you can vote with your feet in the next election. Links have been provided.
- If you feel really passionate on either side, join a protest. (remain peaceful). Some ideas for your protest signs can be ‘I wouldn’t touch them with a barge pole’ or ‘You’ve got hearts of Portland Stone’. Depending on which side you’re on.
So to clarify, I am not pro-refugees, I am not anti-immigration either. I don’t know enough information. We’re constantly being made to feel like we have to ‘choose’ one or the other. What I do know though… is that sometimes… immigrants are ok.
Either way, just be kind.
We are one race, the human race.