The time of peace and goodwill to all men is upon us for a month or so and while we’re all in a receptive mood, I’d like to take the opportunity to remind you about what actually goes on in your name and in the name of Christian fairness in your own country.
Joseph and Mary, the parents of Jesus, would probably have faired much less well today. Try to imagine the pressure that was on these new parents who could not find a suitable place to look after their child. Three itinerant waifs with no axe to grind came to register in Bethlehem and found only a byre in which to shelter. It’s enough to break the heart of even the most cynical agnostic.
It might be reasonable to assume that we have all learned lessons from this story, which is a pivotal foundation on which our western societies are based, but all the evidence points to the fact that it has not. The Christian countries have taken in a tiny percentage of the refugees from Syria and Africa and the money that has been spent on keeping them out is only a drop in the ocean, compared to the money that will have to be spent on dealing with their frustration at being so cursorily excluded and left to suffer an ignominious fate.
One thing that the Christmas story teaches us is that the moderation of expectations is a key to happiness: a byre is at least a better prospect than a ditch at the side of the road. However, the moderation of expectations is not the responsibility of those seeking to be charitable and that is the situation in which the citizens of UK now find themselves.
The expectations of refugees have been deemed unacceptable by the “Christian” right in almost every western country that holds the Nativity story dear. The expectations of refugee parents who seek nothing more than the opportunity to work for a better life for their children are moderated before they are even considered to be valid. We shun their painfully beseeching demands for our sympathy and charity before we even hear them, perhaps because we know that listening too closely to their supplications for compassion will open the trapdoor that we all use to hide our guilt and we will fall through and become hamstrung by our consciences. The true lesson of the Nativity story is a message that most of us will happily ignore this Christmas, that hardship should inspire charity, not the other way around. We have nothing to fear by giving that which we can afford to give – a simple place of shelter – and everything to lose by not doing so.
Instead, we listen again to the two-thousand-year-old story of victory against all odds and we comfort ourselves that if Mary and Joseph could do it, then all of those who implore us to give them a place at our groaning table will do it too and without our help. Their stories will be all the more compelling because, like Mary and Joseph, they will have succeeded against all odds and solely by dint of their own wit and courage. We will stand with them in their moment of glory and tell them that they should be doubly proud of themselves and of us; that their victory is all theirs because we did them the favour of ignoring them when they asked for succour and shelter.
However, this rubric for national purity is not restricted to refugees. For the past seven years, thousands of UK citizens have also been refused entry simply because they are not deemed wealthy enough to return. Like thousands of other UK citizens who wish to bring their families back to live in the UK, I find myself in the similar situation of being unwanted in the country of my birth. My wife, my son and I all want to go to live in the city where I was born. We are not refugees. We are ordinary citizens who ask nothing more than to be given a chance to take advantage of the superior educational opportunities that the UK will provide for our young son while we make a living doing whatever it takes to give him a good start.
For those of you who think that the xenophobia of this UK government is a new phenomenon, I give you the Border, Citizenship and Immigration act of 2009. This act requires that a UK citizen who wishes to bring a wife and child to live in the UK must have job in the UK that pays £22,400 (about US$28,000 at current rates of exchange) for six months or have £66,000 (US$83,000) in a readily accessible current account for six months, before the spouse can even apply for a visa to live with the family in the UK. Leaving a family to get a job in a foreign country is not the act of a responsible or loving spouse or parent and getting a job in a country while you are not living there is almost impossible, so you either have the money in the bank or you stay put and watch your child’s opportunity for a decent education disappear in a puff of nationalist fervour.
As we all rightly rail against Mr Trump for routing Muslims from his country, please remember that far from preventing just the poor and the needy from entering the country, for the past seven years, the UK government has been preventing those UK citizens who have married abroad and who have even the smallest possibility of not getting a job when they arrive from even joining its society, let alone expelling them. It would seem that even the basic biological instinct to broaden the gene pool is being stifled by the fear of the unknown. While wealthy Chinese, Vietnamese and other Asian business people purchase British citizenship for their extended families on the back of business visas, those of us who are citizens are refused a place at the table.
I am in the lucky situation where I will probably be able to save enough money to allow my family to reside in the UK within a few years. This will not be easy. I am not a wealthy businessman. I am a moderately successful English teacher in a developing country where the average annual income is about £15,000 (US$18,000), so I will leave it to your imagination to determine the difficulty of the task of saving four-and-a-half times the annual average income, just so that you can return to the place of your birth with your family.
For the many of you who come from other countries and are reading this, you should know that politicians in other western countries are already considering emulating the British government’s masterful manipulation of a baseless fear of all foreigners, in order to provide an easily managed statistical method to claim credit for decreases in the immigration figures.
Parents with families who have a little money do not break the law and try to get into the country in the back of cattle trucks. They do not want to subject their families to years of court hearings and refused applications for a visa. Those who care about their families’ and children’s wellbeing are simply denied entry and every denied visa is a statistic that the government posts to demonstrate the effectiveness of its policy of keeping out the unwanted. Even those with UK citizenship are now unwelcome in the UK if they choose to bring their foreign spouses.
When I accidentally discovered this act of Parliament a few years ago, I was dumbfounded that a government in any country could get away with this behaviour but the racism that is only now coming to the surface has been quietly nurtured by this government for quite some time.
This Christmas, as you enjoy the company of your family, think for a moment about the thousands of your own citizens for whom this basic happiness is impossible because, like Mary and Joseph, they are not wealthy enough to afford the privilege of living with their loved ones in their own country.