Saturday, June 05, 2004

Same-Old, Same-Old on Immigration

Here's an enlightening article that illustrates just how far back the British tabloids' pedigree in stoking anti-immigrant hysteria goes. As is to be expected, the Daily Wail has by far the longest track record in peddling this sort of sensationalist rubbish, but the Torygraph and the Sun have much to boast (?) of as well.

Nearly 33 years ago, it was possible to find headlines such as "Threat to Survival - Increasing Flood of New Immigrants" above an inflammatory letter to the Daily Telegraph from the late Tory MP, Sir Cyril Osborne (18/10/67).

The Daily Express of February, 1971, merged fact with fantasy: "There are 200,000 Asians in East Africa", it announced in a leader on 12 February, "all possessing British passports, who may come here soon." This falsification launched a series of "floods", "tides", "stampedes", and other connotations of a deluge into the Express's treatment. This culminated on 1 March, 1971, with a headline: "A million Chinese can arrive here next week if they want to."

The Daily Telegraph, later that same month, announced on page 1: "Kenyan Asian Exodus Numbers Double -100,000 may enter Britain by end of the year." This was not based on any projections or even on the estimate of the paper's correspondent in Nairobi, where the story originated. Low down in the report it emerged that the origin of the menacing headline was the calculation of anonymous "airline officials".


On the 4th April, the News of the World carried a picture of "[t]he £150,000 mansion that a refugee family are refusing to quit"; "We won't get out, say Uganda family of 14". This heading contained several vital elements: conflict, immigration, black people, and large families using the welfare state. These elements had already been in the forefront in press reporting during the earlier months, but the Ugandan family -- and, immediately afterwards, the Malawian refugees -- provided the spark that would unite all four elements and eventually concentrate on them. Most of the Press did not attempt to analyse or interpret the many different issues involved in these events, but, in the main, they took advantage of their potential for sensationalism and whetted their readers' appetites.

The newspapers of 5 April took up the News of the World's cry, but not just with the £150,000 mansion reported in the Sun, The Daily Express and Daily Telegraph: the Daily Mail also carried a feature on Asians jumping the housing queue -- "A Kenyan Asian has fixed himself a council house ahead of 17,000 people on the local housing list within a week of arriving in Britain."

It was, to use the newspapers' own terminology, as if the floodgates had burst. General reporting on refugees, immigrants, black people and race relations increased considerably over the next few weeks and the majority of newspapers had a field day with Asians' "exploitation" of the social services and Asians "pouring into the country". The following are examples of headlines to major news stories or features at that time:

"Storm Over the Two-Wife Migrants" -- The Sun, 6/5/76
"Invasion of Asians Forces Borough to Call for Help" -- Telegraph, 6/5/76
"New Flood of Asians to Britain" -- Mirror, 6/5/76
"Another 20,000 Asians are on the Way" -- The Sun, 6/5/76
"Asians 'trick BR to enter'" -- Mail, 8/5/76
"Scandal of Day-Tripper Immigrants" -- Mirror, 8/5/76
"'Queue Jumping' Rumpus" -- Express, 8/5/76
"Banda's Asians Fly In" -- News of the World, 9/5/76
"Refused Welfare -- but 'I'll settle for council house'" -- Express, 10/5/76
"Asians fly out of 'New Uganda'" -- The Sun, 17/5/76
"Mellish cries 'Enough' on Asian influx" --Telegraph, 18/5/76


The point about the press handling of the coverage of the Kenya Asians in the late 1960s and early 1970s is its remarkable and prophetic similarity to the coverage first of the Jewish refugee problem in the period 1938-39: "Aliens Pouring into Britain" was the headline of the Daily Mail, while the Sunday Express (June 1938) wrote: "In Britain, half a million Jews find their home. They are never persecuted and, indeed, in many respects the Jews are given favoured treatment here.

"But just now there is a big influx of foreign Jews in Britain. They are overrunning the country. They are trying to enter the medical profession in great numbers. Worst of all, many of them are holding themselves out to the public as psychoanalysts.

"Intolerance is loathed and hated by almost everybody in this country. And, by keeping a close watch on the causes which fed the intolerance of the Jews in other European countries, we shall be able to continue to treat well those Jews who have made their homes among us, many of them for generations."

In 1900, the Daily Mail described the flight from Tsarist pogroms: "There were Russian Jews, Polish Jews, German Jews, Peruvian Jews: all kinds of Jews, all manner of Jews. They fought and jostled for the foremost places at the gangways; they rushed and pushed and struggled into the troops shed, where the Mayor of Southampton [...] had provided free refreshments.

"They had breakfasted well on board, but they rushed as though starving at the food. They brushed the attendant to one side, they cursed if they were not quickly served, they helped themselves at will, they thrust the children to the background, they pushed the women [...] they jostled and upset the weak, they spilled coffee on the ground in wanton waste."

And then, in August 1938, the Daily Mail described the refugee Jews fleeing from Nazi Germany: "The way stateless Jews from Germany are pouring in from every port of this country is becoming an outrage."
Plus ça change: Jewish hordes, Asian hordes, African hordes, Eastern European hordes - need I really say more? I think there's a lesson in all this for would-be immigration restrictionists who hail from ethnic minorities - contrary to what you might imagine from the far remove of your present comfortable situation, your immigrant forebears were not met with open arms either, whether or not they'd turn out to be "market dominant minorities" later on.