When Donald Trump was elected to the US presidency following a fierce campaign in November 2016, shockwaves darted through both Washington and the wider world. But the ripples are now reaching Jersey in the unfortunate form of hate speech and racial prejudice, a refugee campaigner has said.
Founder of ‘Jersey Cares; Refugee Aid Group’ (JCRAG) and De La Salle teacher Bram Wanrooij came under heavy fire from some Islanders last week after using Facebook to welcome a group of former refugee actors, who were visiting to appear in an Arts Centre play.
Among the attacks were mentions of racial stereotypes and, in one in extreme instance, a suggestion that the group should be shot, sparking an investigation by the States of Jersey Police.
Pictured: The former refugee actors – Wassim Dalal from Syria, Zana Ali from Iraq and Ali Avut from Turkey, who have all been granted asylum in the Netherlands – taking part in Love Theatre’s ‘HOME’. (Photo: Bram Wanrooij)
Mr Wanrooij told Express that Jersey's anti-refugee sentiment is just one symptom of a world now governed by Trump, and spurned on by Brexit.
“People are getting more confident now with things being thrown in their favour with Trump being elected… People feel it’s more and more justifiable,” Mr Wanrooij told Express.
"[The Facebook comments were] an appalling response to people who have really done nothing wrong or done nothing to deserve that treatment. It highlights a problem not just in Jersey but across the western world, I suppose – the growing backlash against immigration, growing backlash against muslims particularly, tarring everyone with the same brush."
The root of this racial prejudice, he says, is a knee-jerk reaction to the changing face of Europe, now forced to accommodate a huge number of refugees - by no fault of the continent's or the refugees' own.
Pictured: A child playing in the former Calais 'Jungle' - home to more than 6,000 refugees - to which Mr Wanrooij's charity delivered aid.
"The amount of refugees that are being produced by the conflicts that are around Europe are higher than its even been, and there’s more people on the move since the second world war so that’s of course one of the factors that it’s important to say.
"On the other hand, there’s also a growing insecurity and instability in our parts of the world. People’s jobs are becoming more insecure, and there are all these global challenges like climate change, etcetera. I think that a lot of the anger that people are feeling towards a political class that hasn’t really responded to what people have been saying over the past two or three decades, and that anger is now being directed in the direction of a scapegoat. And the easy scapegoat is the 'immigrant' or the 'refugee'. Those terms are being used interchangeably which is a problem as well."
'Fake news' - the media's favourite catchphrase of late - and media bias also might have a part to play in fuelling harmful misconceptions about asylum seekers.
Pictured: Not all refugees are economic immigrants, but are instead fleeing persecution, Mr Wanrooij says.
"Even the conception about Calais – where my charity was active in at the beginning – people seem to respond, "why does everyone want to get to England? For benefits?"
"If you look at the numbers, there were a million people crossing into Europe in 2015, and at the highest point of the Calais camp, it was about 10,000 people. Anyone can do the maths – that’s not even 1%. Not everyone wanted to get to the UK, there’s a small group of people who wanted to get there. It’s about seeking safety. And even the people who did want to get to England have good reasons for wanting to do that. Some of them have family there, some of them had maybe a community that was already established – there’s always a reason. And instead people start shouting about benefits, even that is a misconception. Benefits in Germany and Scandanavian countries are a lot higher."
"Perception is ruling this debate for a considerable amount of people. That's part of the reason there is so much fear involved."
Pictured: A rehearsal of Love Theatre's 'HOME' about Jersey's response to the Calais migrant crisis.
JCRAG is therefore looking to correct this misinformation by engaging with and educating the public. As well as helping to stage Calais-themed 'HOME' with Love Theatre, they'll be bringing the British Institute of Human Rights over for a talk on 24 March and participating in International Refugee Week from 19th to 25th June this year with various events.
"A lot of what we do in the next few months is also focused on those misconceptions and hopefully we can change a few people’s minds."
But the States will have to play a part too, Mr Wanrooij says.
In Monday's States Assembly, Chief Minister Ian Gorst reiterated that the government would favour helping homeless Syrians on-site via the Jersey Overseas Aid (JOA) Commission rather than inviting some families to seek shelter on the Island. But Mr Wanrooij believes these efforts would be better directed towards asylum seekers stranded in Europe.
Pictured: The scene at a camp in Syria, where the States said they would prefer to direct JOA funds.
"[Syria's] got international organisations like the UNHCR who are active there in providing basic care. The refugees who get stranded in Europe all fall into the hands of criminal elements. All of them. Especially smuggling networks. There’s a lack of official organisations involved in the European camps so something we should be engaged with and the States of course should have a role there as well."
"Some of the images coming out of Paris, for example, are horrendous – people sleeping on the streets, police chasing them off and stealing their sleeping bags. It’s a pretty horrendous situation and we also see people returning to Calais."
To that end, he'll be visiting camps in Paris on the 10th February to deliver warm clothes and sleeping bags. Anyone who wishes to donate items can leave them at the Arts Centre tomorrow evening during the performance of 'HOME' at 7pm.
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Manipulation is a fine art. Some do it by leaving out facts conveniently whilst others play on the heart strings of people.
This article is not true at least as far as Jersey is concerned because I can tell you the day it began. It began the day that the people of Jersey decided that given the horrendous situation arising in Europe due to mass unchecked migration. They expressed their views that they wanted to help the genuine refugees but they wanted to do it by giving financially as opposed to taking the unnecessary risks that you expected them to take. This was the will of 82% of the island.
I was forced to challenge your last column which claimed that women and children refugees were being forced into the European sex trade and that’s true. It is disgraceful and must be stopped.
However this was the fourth threat and you conveniently omitted to mention the first three. Why? Because if you had you wouldn’t have the support you seek even though you are already ignoring the wishes of 82% of the island. Wishes that you choose to disrespect showing that what Jersey residents want is of no interest to you.
The first threat to these people begins as they try to get onto boats. The Saudis come up and offer to buy the young women as brides paying between £1/300 per person. In case you didn’t know they aren’t going to be brides, at least not in the sense that we perceive marriage.
The second threat is on the boats where it is claimed that there have been many incidences of women and children being thrown overboard in an attempt to save the men.
The third threat is the camps where women and children are routinely raped and prostituted. They are so afraid that they wont even venture outside to the toilet at night as many suffer what I have described above.
Immediately those that choose not to believe this will respond with I’m sure its just an isolated occurrence. Not so. How do I know. I know because the governments are spending millions building separate camps to keep the women and children away from the men and governments don’t spend millions on isolated events. We all know that much!
The day before I spoke at the town hall a Canadian journalist was gang raped in the Calais camp. An Ethiopian lady was gang raped there as the jungle was being dismantled. The women in the jungle who only numbered in the hundreds as opposed to the thousands of men were forced to provide sexual favours to men in exchange for protection against gang rape.
Families travelling from England and through France have been attacked as they passed through Calais by machete wielding migrants and even the sky news crew was also attacked and one was cut with a knife.
I have been close to it also as I was in the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris when a car laden with explosives was parked outside. There were over a thousand people inside at the time. Mostly young families. There were as many outside and there was also a film being made. There were scores of soldiers outside with machine guns yet it did nothing to deter them. Even as I write this with Sky the news in the background it is being reported that a soldier was stabbed outside the louvre by a man who shouted allu Akbar as he stabbed him.
No one in Jersey hates refugees. They are just justifiably scared of allowing men into Jersey who possess this mindset and why wouldn’t they be. I would call it common sense.
We want to help genuine refugees. I say genuine because according to official European statistics 80% of them aren’t refugees they are economic migrants travelling by choice and there are also terrorists among them. Note Paris which was orchestrated by a refugee who came in via Greece in February that year. When I spoke at the town hall with Senator Gorst a small group of people shout that it was nonsense and not possible. Less than thirty days later the Paris attacks happened. Then Brussels. Then Nice. Then Berlin etc.
Help the genuine. They are going through hell. But in Gods name do it with a logical mind. It would cost 2,5 million a year to rent ten houses in Jersey. You could buy a block of apartments that would house three times as many families and gift them the apartments. The cost of living is a third of what it is here and therefore we could feed three times as many people. No dangerous boat trips. No risk from the predators trying to buy them. There are people in Jersey who sincerely believe that denying them Jersey is to deny them a place in utopia. Jersey isn’t utopia. I love it but it’s a tough life for many and most of our children will be forced to leave as there is little or no hope of owning their own home.
Also please understand the true definition of a refugee. It is someone that has been forced from their home due to war or natural disaster. By definition they do not want to leave home they were forced to. Help them. Help more of them. Do it intelligently and in their interest and in the interests of the island. And stop trying to claim the moral high ground because there isn’t any. No one wants to witness human suffering. We all want to help. We just don’t want to place our children at risk when we can do a better job for the genuine refugees without risk in the best interests of all concerned.