Category: Ed's Blog
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Migration, refugees and asylum seekers - If we are judging people, lets judge ourselves.

So I'm heading back to the UK and reflecting on what I have seen, thinking through the conversations I have had and drawing all of my notes together.  More than anything else I think the UK and public opinion should face up to its historic responsibilities. The truth is we have sought to be a world power - that brings with it massive privileges. But the responsibilities need to be thought through much much more clearly.

Living in Kilburn, north west London we have a very multi-cultural community drawn from across the globe. I often joke proudly to friends that of an evening, if I so choose, I can eat on virtually any continent of the world based on the restaurants we have locally. The curry houses of India, Bangladesh and Nepal are great, the Ethiopian and Somali cafes add astonishing taste and flavour and add to that the Thai, the Brazilian, the Afghan and of course the Chinese, Italian and Irish outlets and there is positive smorgasbord of options and choice.

But these did not come about by some random chance - communities living here did not drift randomly from their homes across the world to be here. Let's look at China to start with. The British had serious economic, trade and military interest in China for years - we finally withdrew our troops in the 1920's (we were kicked out!), but given we are commemorating the 100th anniversary of World War One perhaps we should remember that thousands of Chinese who were recruited to repair tanks and provide munition supply routes to our soldiers during that war.

The U.K. interest in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh is not just the stuff of a good film in the form of Ghandi - it is the reality of imperial occupation up to to and including 1948. My father was born and at school when our soldiers were seeking to subjugate a population of millions with the backing of a Lee Enfield rifle and a supply of Gattling Guns and Armoured Cars.

More recently we have been involved, in my lifetime, in military action in Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, Syria - growing up I remember that we had soldiers stationing in Germany, Belize, Malta. And I dare not really touch on what we have and have not done in Africa over the last 100 years.

This is no comprehensive survey of what we have done with our 'influence' and that was an influence based on guns and enforcement. But each time and on every occasion, whether it was right or wrong, we were backing a side, persuading one community versus another to help us achieve our objectives. Given this, and more, can any of us be surprised that some of those communities, when things have turned out badly for them, sometimes precisely because they helped us, that they turned to us, the U.K. for refuge and for a better life?

Take my own family as an example.

My grandmother was Irish. I was told she came here as a young girl for work. But when I did the family history the story was a tad more complex. My grandmother was born in southern Ireland in 1912 in Tipperary. The daughter of Mary Key (formerly O'Brien). Her grandmother had survived the potato famine in Ireland and truly was 'Irish'. But her father, Alfred Key was in fact born in Staffordshire. Born into a working class family of potters, he had got out by joining the British Army. Sent to Ireland he had married in 1904 and then proceeded to start a family. My grandmother's brothers and sisters were all born in various military barracks around Ireland. World War One came along and he saw action first in France and then in the north west Frontier of India. Whilst away on active service The 1916 Easter Uprising occurred and suddenly things looked very different for a young Irish mother with young children who had married a soldier from an occupying army - with Irish Nationalism came Independence and then a Civil War. The time had come to get out. And so my grandmother was sent as young girl to Swansea to stay with her Aunt and Uncle, and from there to St Albans and eventually south west London where she met my grandfather and the rest they say is history.

But the nature of that imperial policy in Southern Ireland means my heritage is itself wound up in military action and getting the young children out - to England - and a perceived better life.

In India, as partition with Pakistan occurred in 1948, villages were literally carved in half and millions displaced and killed. In the melee of that a young man got out and made his way to England - he became my Uncle Singh and so my cousins carry the name Kaur and Singh to reflect their heritage. It's a mixed heritage that I'm very proud of, but the truth is it's not the random occurrence of travel. It flows directly from our economic and military interests that have existed in that distant part of the world over the years.

So next time you see people on the television crowding at the fences, pleading to get papers and passports - please understand why I argue that we should give them a fair hearing and a second chance. For once upon a time (not all that long ago) that was my very young teenage grandmother and my young, hopeful 20-something Uncle to-be.