A better life?

February 12, 2004 ,

OCCASIONALLY a stone is lifted to reveal a shadowy world.

Any decent human being would have been shamed by the plight of 19 Chinese cockle pickers drowned in Morecombe Bay.

Anyone who read about the desperate mobile phone call to his family in China, made by one of the drowning workers, would have been horrified.

Many illegal immigrants are trafficked into Britain by ruthless gangs with the promise of a better life, and money to send home.

Those who survive the journey find become effective slaves, forced to work for a pittance to pay back the money they owe to the traffickers.

For young girls promised jobs in domestic service, forced prostitution is often their fate, with the ever present fear of violence if they complain.
For these Chinese workers, ruthless gangmasters sent them out at night onto the treacherous sands of Morecombe Bay where they drowned in the dark.

We need better debate about this issue, not hysteria which plays on peoples’ fears.
Those of us in public life should try to lead that debate even when feelings are strong and the subject sensitive.

We should recognise that some immigration is good for society.
When my father came to Britain, it was the Irish who were accused of stealing jobs.
In truth they worked hard and helped build this country.

The world’s most powerful nation, the USA, is a nation built entirely on immigration.

But we must have a system that is legal and fair.
Gangs who specialise in people trafficking and exploitation must be ruthlessly targeted by the authorities, and gangmasters who allocate labour should be regulated by law.

Perhaps the deaths of 19 of our fellow human beings will achieve a more balanced debate on immigration, and help to put an end to the shameful exploitation of workers, wherever they come from.