EU Referendum

Immigration: economic migrants


The Telegraph tells us that Baran Nouri Hamadamin, a 24-year-old Kurdish woman from northern Iraq, has been identified as one of 27 migrants who drowned in the Channel last Wednesday.

The woman, also known as Maryam (with her full name spelled differently in other accounts), had been a student and was newly engaged. and had left her studies early to be with her fiancé in the UK (another account describes her as married. She had an Italian visa and travelled from Istanbul to Italy on 2 November, then spent six days in Germany.

The BBC has published a photograph of Maryam, said to be located in Germany on 10 November. The picture shows a well-dressed young woman, clean and apparently healthy, in what seems to be a parkland setting (illustrated).

Maryam's best friend, Imann Hassan, has told the BBC that her friend was "very humble" and had "a very big heart". "When she left Kurdistan she was very happy, she couldn't believe that she was going to meet her husband", Hassan said. "At her engagement party she was telling me: 'I will buy a house and live nearby you ... we are going to live together'".

The Guardian publishes another photograph of Maryam (also on the front pages of the Telegraph and Times), well-groomed and wearing a tiara, apparently with her fiancé/husband, a well-dressed young man in suit and tie.

The accompanying text has Maryam coming from the town of Souran in the north-east of Iraqi Kurdistan, near the border with Turkey and Iran,. A relative says of her: "Her story is the same as everyone else – she was looking for a better life. One of her uncles was one of the people closest to me. He cared for us when my father was a political prisoner. But the family have had such a tragic life".

In another BBC piece, we are told why migrants leave France for the UK. In a survey of 402 people at the former Calais "Jungle" camp, we are told, researchers from the International Health journal found only 12 percent wanted to remain in France, while 82 percent planned to go to England.

Of those that wanted to travel to England more than half (52 percent), said they already had a family member there. "They have a connection to the UK, they speak some English, they have family, they have friends and people in their networks". "They want to come and stay and rebuild their lives", says Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council.

This would clearly apply to Baran Nouri Hamadamin who, from the testimonies of her friend and of her fiancé/husband, was indeed attempting to join a family (or about to be family) member in England and, to paraphrase the words of Enver Solomon, was not so much seeking to rebuild her life as to create a new one.

Tragic and untimely though her death was, it would be very hard to describe this young woman as a refugee in the sense defined by the UN Convention and Protocol, to whit:
Owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.
Enver Solomon, in an earlier piece argues that displaced people have a right to seek safety in Britain.

But even if we conceded that, Maryam seems to have left Iraq of her own accord. Although her means of travel is not specified in any narrative, it is reasonable to assume that she flew to Italy – possibly from Turkey. She then was able freely to travel to Germany, where she was clearly not roughing it, and then travelled to France.

The fiancé/husband – who providing some of the tragic details to the media, having tracked Maryam by GPS for the four hours that she was in the dinghy – is named as Karzan Asaad. He is said, by the Mail, to have British citizenship and is working as a barber in Bournemouth.

Therein lies something of a puzzle. If he was – as some accounts state – married to Maryam, and was lawfully in this country with residential rights, then there is provision to take advantage of family reunion rules for a "pre-flight" partner.

On that basis, Maryam could well have joined her husband (if that was the relationship), quite legally – although not as fast, given the formidable bureaucracy involved.

This notwithstanding, we must not let the regrettable and tragic circumstances of the death of Maryam blind us to the facts which strongly indicate that she was not in any meaningful sense a refugee. On the facts as we know them, she was an economic migrant with no grounds for seeking asylum.

Before embarking on her fatal journey across the Channel, she had been (apparently legally) in three EU countries, all within the same month. And, quite clearly, in those countries, she was in a safe place. Had she felt unable to return to Iraq – for reasons set out in the Convention and Protocol – one assumes she could have applied for asylum in any one of those countries.

Over time, more details may emerge of the background of Maryam, as will details of the other victims. Without those details, though, we already have well-funded NGOs exploiting the tragedy to argue for relaxed controls, to enable the dinghy people to enter the UK legally.

Bizarrely, though, when it comes to Iraqi Kurds, there is no attempt to conceal the economic motivations. In this piece from the BBC, headed: "Why Iraqi Kurds risk their lives to reach the West", we learn that the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq has oil resources and a reputation for being relatively secure, stable and prosperous.

But, we are told, "many of the Iraqi Kurds stuck at camps dotted along the northern French coast and Belarus-Poland border say they are trying to escape economic hardship in the region and build better lives".

They complain, says the BBC, about high unemployment, low pay and unpaid salaries, as well as poor public services, widespread corruption and the patronage networks linked to two main families - Barzani and Talabani - and their political parties, which have shared power for almost three decades.

A young man at a camp in Dunkirk is cited, saying that: "There is no hope in Kurdistan. Every young person has to migrate, except for those backed by the ruling parties". A woman at the same camp said her husband had served in the region's Peshmerga security forces for years, but that they had left for Europe after he was not paid for months. "We have hope for a better life once we reach [the UK], a better future for our kids," she said.

Uncomfortable though some of these personal circumstances might be, what the BBC is describing are the very embodiment of economic migrants. Such people have no rights to come to the UK. Should they choose to enter the country by-passing normal immigration rules, as individuals, we owe them nothing.

However many times the Guardian might squeal "xenophobia", this latest tragedy does not change a thing. Where our collective responsibility does lie - alongside France - is to stop the boats.

Also published on Turbulent Times.