Escaping poverty is as valid a reason for migration – from the point of view of the migrants at least – as is escaping persecution or war. And I’m certain that there are plenty in politics and the media who understand that, but are afraid to say so given the prevailing climate of hostility towards migrants. It’s a somewhat cowardly position to take, and it means that the underlying problem largely goes unaddressed.
That underlying problem is a very simple one – global inequality, which modern media and communications makes visible in a way which would not have been the case in previous times. People can see a higher standard of living is attainable elsewhere, and there is nothing at all unnatural or unexpected about them wanting part of it. And as long as the wealthy parts of the world try to hold on to their wealth rather than see it shared more evenly, we can and should expect increasing levels of what is euphemistically called ‘economic migration’. We can either move the wealth to the people, or the people will seek to move to the wealth. Isn’t that the essence of the message about ‘getting on your bike’? The Tory perspective seems to be that it’s the right thing to do within the UK, but the wrong thing to do if it involves crossing a border.
Trying to stem the flow is simply responding to the symptoms; and attempting to regulate it by only accepting those with qualifications or skills which we need delivers a double blow to those countries from where the migrants come, because not only are we leaving them in poverty, we’re also taking the most skilled and able of their people to meet our needs rather than theirs.
One might think that in Wales of all places, we would understand this only too well. Whilst Welsh poverty is not on the same scale as the countries from which so many are trying to escape, have we not suffered, for generations, from the export of our most talented young people? Is that not part of a process which mantains and perpetuates relative Welsh poverty?
People rail against the unfair distribution of wealth in the UK which causes the problem in Wales, yet seem unable to see that the scenes at Calais are the result of a similar problem writ large on a global scale. The problem isn’t migration, it’s inequality. And unless and until we recognise that and address it, desperate people will continue to do desperate things.