Wednesday, 18 December 2013


Looking through the pages of the Pilot in 1987, I came across this very pertinent piece by Michael Stear, who was Minister at St Paul's Church in Jersey.

I would take issue with him slightly. He does not address the issue of sustainability with regard to population numbers, in terms of infrastructure, which is something the UK doesn't have as much of a problem with - it has larger reservoirs, and sources of water from rivers, to take one example. But back in 1987, the Island's population was then around 80,212, rather than the 97,857 of the last census in 2011, and the problem was not quite as acute.

But debates about immigration are often not about sustainability, they are about fear and hatred and dislike of the foreigner, the alien coming to stay in Jersey. We can see this in recent months with the furore about Romanians, who may come here and threaten our jobs, or so the rather xenophobic and racist narrative goes. Making a scapegoat of the immigrant to blame for societies ills is something that people buy into very easily, and it is well laid bare by Michael Steer in this article.

Indeed, if I had not given the date - 1987 - I suspect most readers would be hard pressed to tell when it was written. I can predict that the ugly side of the debate will rear its head next year, as it is an election year, just as it did back in 1987.

There is a lot of good sense in this article, and the problems described are just as present today, if not more acute. Slum landlords still rent sub-standard accommodation, and the crumbs still fall from the tables. And there is still a degree of blame for society's ills laid at the door of the immigrant.

Immigrant! by The Rev. Michael Stear. 

The Autumn will also see the Elections here in Jersey. No doubt immigration will figure prominently as an issue. Our politicians, or potential politicians, face a difficult task in balancing a variety of concerns and issues. We have a responsibility to pray for them.

This month is four years since I took up the invitation to move here. As a family we have been made very welcome and have received a lot of love from many people. But it took moving to Jersey for me to begin to understand what it is to be an `immigrant'. I well remember attending an open meeting at the Town Hall shortly after I arrived, where the Island Plan was displayed and being discussed.

Two things impressed me about the occasion - the poor attendance and the very powerful reaction to immigrants. As I listened to feelings being expressed, it hit me: "I'm one of those they are talking about in disparaging terms." I sank lower in the chair and felt that I almost needed to crawl out on all fours!

Over recent months there have been almost daily references to immigration. I would put in a plea to all our politicians to be cautious in their terminology and the attitude some of them convey. Certain attitudes expressed recently by public figures give me cause for concern.

Unqualified expressions such as `quality immigrants' on the one hand and `undesirables off the boats' on the other are highly subjective and loaded with pre-suppositions, often far from Christian. Equally disturbing has been the attitude openly expressed by some, that it is immigrants, people off the boats, who are responsible for increased crime. I am interested to know whether that is statistically proven. The attitude has come across from some, albeit a few, that Jersey's problems come from outside of the Island and seldom from within.

I was saddened and indignant as were other people. at comments I heard at the end of July with regard to the sub-standard accommodation faced by some Portuguese workers. On one hand some politicians were saying: "Tell us of specific situations and we will look into them." Now that is sincerely meant, concerning that I have no doubt, but it is a paternalistic attitude which falls far short of dealing with the problems.

Similar attitudes have surfaced over a range of social issues. When a person has no protected rights or security, to make a specific complaint against an employer could mean a one-way ticket to unemployment, homelessness and having to leave the Island. On the other hand there were comments made concerning the way in which some have abused their accommodation. The tenor of one or two comments sailed perilously close to racism.

The Bible has some strong things to say about such matters, and has a strong concern for justice, care for the `stranger in your midst', concern for the powerless in society, and fair pay for fair work.

The immigration problem is a difficult one for our politicians to sort out; I don't deny that for one moment. Restrictions and controls of some kind are no doubt necessary. But if Jersey pursues a very tight policy on housing and work permits, would they be prepared for the UK to impose similar stringent restrictions on Jersey people going there? After all unemployment and housing are far greater problems in the UK.

As the Elections approach, the question has to be asked what kind of society does Jersey want to be known as, and what kind of lifestyle is right? The impression given at times is that Jersey wants to be a society that has its cake and eats it.

The reality is, that even amongst Jersey people, there are those who have their cake and enjoy it, whilst others get the crumbs. It is not fair to say that those with crumbs have themselves to blame for not working hard enough. Whilst the majority of the population enjoy a very affluent standard of living, there is an enormous disparity between rich and poor living in very close proximity. A variety of visitors to the Island acquainted with deprivation and urban decay on the mainland have commented, off the record, that the material and social problems faced by some people in some parts of the Island are equal to those faced in the inner cities of the UK.

For a community whose Chancellor announced a handsome Island surplus last year, such a state of affairs should not exist. If the prophet Amos were alive today, I suspect he would be an uncomfortable person for us to live with. But all of us, and I include myself very much in this, need to take heed of what God said through Amos and through other prophets of the Old Testament. It is there we are challenged as to the nature of society God wants.

No comments: