Comment, Comics and the Contrary.
News just off the press! The Daily Mail led a passionate campaign against the British hosting of Basque children, who had fled Spain in the 1930s to seek asylum with the people of Britain. I unearthed this amazing new story* while watching ‘The Guernica Children’ on BBC Four. Given the viewing figures that BBC Four receives I think I can claim this story as an exclusive. The campaign consisted of obsessively reporting any crimes committed by the child refugees. Of course, admitted a man who had offered his services as a translator at the time, many of these stories were true. But the necessary discrimination that is employed in building any picture of the world – as any such picture must be partial – can be used to produce discrimination of a different category. By reporting the crimes (or, let us be honest, hi-jinks) of the refugee children the Daily Mail sought to use a partial presentation of the truth to build up a popular dislike, hate even, of these children. And send them back to Franco.
The shame is not only that the Daily Mail is still extant. The shame is not only that it runs exactly the same kind of campaigns against people seeking, and granted, asylum in Britain today. The shame is that it is inconceivable that Britain would accept crowded boatloads of refugee children today. Instead of looking back at that period with pride, and seeking to emulate the great-hearted people who welcomed the children, we look with envy at Australia, a country that locks up refugee children in camps in the desert (or indeed, on desert islands). We hope to copy them, and our second party imports the election guru who helped demonise and dehumanise these refugees. If we must deport anyone, let it be him.
And then I turn over to BBC News 24 just in time to watch the odious toad, Bruce Anderson, railing against asylum seekers. Times do change. But it does not mean that the past does not echo if we do not speak loudly in favour of human equality, decency and rights, and against the small-minded, the prejudiced and the hateful.
*I am joking – we should all know that the Daily Mail is a hate-filled rag; what is impressive is the fact that the culture has been so effectively preserved – I would say fossilised, but unfortunately the fascists’ and racists’ favourite newspaper is not dead.
Spanish Refugees and Basque Children