Lush’s campaign is a welcome antidote to immigration hysteria

Posted by admin on May 26th, 2011

Rahila Gupta, Guardian UK, May 26 2011

Given the magnitude of the job of changing public opinion, Lush’s week-long campaign on immigration in its 90 UK stores, which began on Monday, might seem inadequate. However, it is a brave stand, and any initiative that argues for the rationality and humanity of open borders is a welcome counter to the short-sighted, rightwing response to refugees fleeing Libya, Egypt and Tunisia, which is threatening to tear up the Schengen agreement for passport-free travel in mainland Europe.

No One is Illegal (NOII), the group that campaigns for open borders, organised a stunt in conjunction with Lush: trying to board the 10.57am Eurostar train to Calais using a travel document called the “world passport”, which confirmed that “its bearer is a human being, and not an alien”.

I went along for the ride. Except there wasn’t one. We didn’t get 50 yards beyond the ticket barriers. I was quite nervous: immigration officials have that aura about them that headteachers have for children. Although I have been fortunate enough not to have ever needed to evade immigration controls, it hasn’t stopped that feeling of guilt spreading across my face as I wait in the queue to enter Britain and look shiftily away as they compare photos and check the authenticity of something under an ultraviolet light. So I was pretty dry-mouthed and grateful for the diversion created by the baggage scanner and frisking.

I had my tape-recorder running, hoping to catch the officer as he or she read the riot act before arresting me or at least a homily on the sanctity of immigration controls. But we hadn’t reckoned with them being French, and with so little English that they would not engage with us when we declared loftily that it was our human right to live and work wherever we wished and that immigration controls were unjust and racist.

My French was not up to the job of keeping up with their rapid exchanges. Then one of them turned to us and said: “C’est une plaisanterie, une fantaisie, a joke, eh?” After waiting half an hour, we were called in to sign a document, “Refus d’entrée” before being unceremoniously turfed out.

As NOII handed out its tabloid paper on immigration, we got into conversations with people, some of whom agreed that controls were inhumane. This chimed with the findings of the YouGov survey of over 2,000 people carried out by Lush in which 54% of people agreed with the statement, “People should be free to live and work wherever they wish and enjoy all of the same rights as all other residents”.

The sample was divided into two groups: 72% of one sample thought that they should be allowed to live and work in a foreign country, whereas 46% of the other thought people from foreign countries should be allowed to live and work in Britain. These are quite positive findings given the level of distortion of facts and the hysteria with which the immigration debate is carried out by the likes of tabloid newspapers and the far right. The benefits of migration to the economy are many and varied. Imagine what the findings would have been if those polled had been given the facts and then asked again.

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