I was coming to the Eurotunnel yesterday afternoon, on one of four coaches full of travellers on the Venice Simplon Orient Express. We were delayed when a large coach party ahead of us , had every bag searched by the Border Police (French and British). The people being searched were clearly from the Balkans, they made no fuss, they submitted to having their possessions spread out for inspection.
To begin with, there was some complaint on our coach, until an Australian lady reminded us that this was what her ancestors would have endured (and a lot worse).
It turned out that not one person on that bus was bringing anything illegal into Britain, no one was an illegal immigrant and the bus eventually passed into Britain.
I am thinking back to the early 1970s when I was young and we feared the impact of East African Asians in this country. Many of those people are now friends and Lady Lucy will be seeing boatloads this summer! We have learned the ways of Asian immigrants and they have learned our ways. Our country is now the better for it.
Nearly 70 years ago, people from the Caribbean came to this country on boats like the Windrush. I can imagine that those privileged enough to be sailing on cruise liners, would have viewed the new immigrants they’d have seen on the docks, as we did the Balkans at Calais. They’d have been wrong to have turned up the noses, just as we would have been.
I hope that there were people back then like the Australian lady on our bus who saw beyond the differences to see that these people were just the same as us, just a lot less lucky.
All this has a pensions dimension, the FT are promoting the work of Steve Webb and others who are campaigning for those of the “Windrush generation” to get full state benefits and compensation for benefits they may not have been able to claim (child benefit in particular).
A couple of my friends (whose parents were of the Windrush generation) are currently looking to help Caribbean people to get their benefits and I hope to advertise their work on this blog in weeks to come.
Meanwhile, I’ll have that bus-load of Balkans in my mind this hot Bank Holiday Monday. I hope that they are as cheerful where they are heading, as they were yesterday afternoon. I hope they meet more people like the Australian lady on our bus. And I hope more people like me, who should have known better, learn to regard those legally visiting Britain as our guests – and not a nuisance or a threat