Guilty until proved innocent

By Pieter Cranenbroek, International Politics Blogger

The London Economic

In the Roman Empire, the principle arose of a person being innocent until proven guilty.

Two thousand years later, we are moving towards a civilisation in which people can be considered ‘guilty unless proved innocent’. Theresa May’s Immigration Bill transforms illegal immigrants into outlaws and makes British citizens bounty hunters. The paranoia against immigrants that this new British bill implies is sadly not an isolated case; it rather looks like it is a European trend.

Paranoia and xenophobia are recurring themes throughout history. In the early 1900s, British society was obsessed with the idea that German spies had infiltrated the country. The expansion of the German navy combined with a decreasing public confidence in Britain’s ability to dominate the seas formed the basis of these fears.

These fears were reinforced by the numerous spy novels that circulated in this period narrating about invasions of foreign spies. A century on, a renewed lack of confidence in Britain’s ability to control its own borders has caused wild stories about immigrants to circulate. This time it is the government that reinforces paranoia by presenting the public with a distorted view of reality.

Civic duty

The new immigration bill is a vote of no confidence in British border patrol. The assumption is that countless illegal immigrants have slipped through the net and it is no longer the job of border police to keep illegal residents out; it will become the responsibility of employers and landlords to locate these people.

The message the government is sending is: ‘they’re here and it is your civic duty to hunt them down.’ Since this bill affects legal immigrants and native residents as well, requiring them to prove their legal residence status, this might even turn into a witch-hunt comparable to the one aimed at identifying communists in the Cold War.

An important thing to remember is that a considerable part of the migrant workers currently residing in the UK are there because a demand for them exists. These people often work in low-skilled jobs; ones natives do not want to do. Most importantly, the vast majority of migrant workers leave after a while to return to their country of origin.

In regards to political refugees, every right-wing party is arguing the same; our country is their favourite destination so we need to close our borders to them. Let’s put this into perspective. Of course there may be people profiting from the welfare system, but this is a small minority, not millions. Does it really mean we have to treat all immigrants as second-class citizens or even as non-citizens?

European epidemic

The British right, however, does not stand alone in its persecution of immigrants. All over Europe right-wing movements seem to have adopted a non-tolerant attitude towards immigrants in the past decade.

The most notable example, of course, is the Berlusconi administration which wanted to fingerprint every foreign national before entering the country as a precautionary measure. But the list goes on: the Sarkozy government in France demonstrably deported thousands of Roma people, Greece’s far right Golden Dawn party won eighteen seats in parliament with their anti-immigration rhetoric and the Dutch Freedom party, led by Wilders, even set up a website where Dutch nationals could report their complaints about Central and Eastern European immigrants. Blaming immigrants therefore seems to be a European epidemic.

Politics of the right are politics of fear. Right-wing parties create a problem or take an existing one and blow it out of proportion to the extent that people are actually starting to believe we need them to put a stop to it. The irony is that they present their policies as the cure when in fact they are the disease.

Let us not be fooled, this right-wing propaganda is what pollutes society. It creates a hostile environment and a suffocating atmosphere for natives and immigrants alike. Sure, there may be free riders profiting from the welfare state but this is true of every society and free riders are not limited to the migrant population.

So what is this really about? The proper allocation of government funds? Because if that is the real issue here, then it may be better to breathe down the neck of this government instead of breathing down each other’s necks.

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