In September 2012 Jose Matada, a young man of Mozambique heritage boarded a Boeing 747 at Luanda airport, the Angolan capital on route to Heathrow, London. His aspiration was simple, a hope of a better life. It is a hope that has driven migration across continents since the dawn of the human race, but what made Jose’s story quite distinctive from his fellow passengers is that Jose did not get the opportunity to saver any of the inflight food or entertainment. Jose’s body was discovered in the streets of an affluent west London suburb below the flight path of the Boeing 747 he was travelling on. He had fallen from the planes undercarriage when the wheels opened for its descent. Whilst only wearing light clothes Jose seemed to have survived the bulk of the 12-hour trip, although low oxygen levels and temperatures of -60C in the unpressurised wheel recess would have left him unconscious. He died on his 26th birthday, with a single pound coin in his pocket.
Whilst Jose’s case is rare, it is not unique with several deaths being reported on inward flights over the years. Apart from avoiding armed security guards getting into the wheelbay of a Boeing 747 is not easy. It involves climbing one of the aircraft’s 12 enormous wheels, then finding somewhere to crouch as the deafening engines taxi the plane to the end of the runway. Clinging to huge pieces of steel the plane accelerates to 180mph. It is unlikely that until the wheels start to retract that those hidden in the wheelbay understand just how much trouble they are in. Within minutes of take off passengers, only a few feet away are starting to enjoy their inflight movie, whilst the temperature in the wheelbay will have already fallen below frozen and hallucinations kick in from a lack of oxygen.
As the dust settles after the general election in the UK one thorny issue is destined to pierce the psyche of the UK as we slowly move towards a debate and referendum on our future membership of the European Union. This issue is immigration. Even if not said explicitly immigration will dominate the debate and subsequent vote. During the run up to the UK general election we were presented with an opportunity to pause and reflect on the constant dehumanisation of people we label immigrants. A journalist in one of the UK’s largest selling tabloids had published an article which contained the following, “No, I don’t care. Show me pictures of coffins, show me bodies floating in water, play violins and show me skinny people looking sad. I still don’t care…..make no mistake, these migrants are like cockroaches.” 48 hours of this article appearing the Italian PM Matteo Renzi was leading calls for more European Union action on migration. His call followed the sinking of a 70ft long boat carrying up to 700 people. Only 28 people survived. The resulting pictures were heartbreaking, which may have melted slightly for one moment the iceberg heart of the journalist who wrote of migrants as cockroaches and wanting to be shown bodies floating in water. You would think this man made tragedy and its circumstances would have helped frame a more humane attitude – I am yet to be convinced.
The ensuing debate and referendum on our future membership of the European Union has opportunity to bring forth what is truly great and decent about this country. It could help lance a few boils and open honest dialogue about who we are as a people now and into the future, which is often overshadowed by the unspoken glass ceiling of class rather than the colour of ones skin. It could give confidence to positively challenge the plastic Alf Garnett’s and “pound shop Enoch Powell’s” who nipple feed on our fears and project back a grotesque bastard off spring, who then deludingly believe they have a birth right to be the mouthpiece of so called but undefined British values. The ensuing debate and referendum could help forge the UK as a more compassionate partner both with our European partners and the rest of the world especially for those people labelled immigrants, who more than often tend to be impoverished and black. Equally, it risks setting a course that could result in retraction from the world at large in the hope that we can somehow just solider on in perfect isolation whilst the gramophone crackles out the national anthem, the Union Jack is hoisted and the good old folks can bask in yesterday’s promises. Regardless, which side you sit on, this debate is needed because the UK needs to find a settlement not just within Europe, or the world but also within itself.
Meanwhile on 18th June 2015, police were called to an incident where a body of a man has been discovered on the roof of a west London office building. The man in question seems to have fallen from a Boeing 747.
I think immigration has become one of the defining issues of our time. I read that the Hungarian government wants to build a border wall; the Danes have just elected an anti-immigration party to power and of course the Australians continue to shame the Pacific by their barbaric treatment of refugees. Even relatively benign NZ where I live is not immune from anti-immigration rhetoric and popular sentiment. As long as there are such enormous and obvious disparities of living standards (brought about by the rich exploiting the poor, as always), those with the least will also have the least to lose and will try in whatever way possible to chase the hope of a better life.