Kavas Jamas Badshah, from India, was elected Mayor of Ipswich in 1925, following distinguished service during the First Word War and as an Ipswich Alderman. But there was no question of special favours – it was based on the understanding that he would make a good Mayor for our town, and so it proved.
There are many others who were not born here, whose dedication to Ipswich, hard work in the service of their fellow residents, and commitment to the values that have made our town a decent and friendly place to live, led to them becoming Mayor. To pick just two, Albert Grant OBE worked for many years at Cranes, Hamil Clarke MBE has also worked most of his life here, both raised their families here, they helped found the Ipswich & Suffolk Council for Racial Equality which has done so much to prevent the racial tensions that have marred many other towns, both fought as Borough Councillors for better housing and fairer wages and more inclusive education for all of Ipswich’s residents, and were elected Mayor in recognition. And I would also like to mention Tom Gondris, who arrived as a child fleeing the Nazis’ persecution of the Jews, and who served as an Ipswich Borough Councillor.
This week we heard about the shocking treatment of some UK residents born in the Caribbean, despite many decades of hard work and a clear assumption that they have always been British citizens. Perhaps the most shocking element is that in October 2010, despite warnings from civil servants that lives could be disrupted and people’s rights put at risk, the Home Office deliberately destroyed the records of arrivals from the Caribbean in the 50s and 60s.
Ipswich has flourished over the years precisely because it welcomed the contribution that incomers can make. Our whole nation has benefited from the skills, knowledge and dedication of so many people who were rejected by their previous country, or who had no opportunity to lead fulfilling lives there.
When people have to escape life-threatening danger, it is the right thing to do to offer them a safe haven. That doesn’t mean that every single one of the refugees will turn out to be a model citizen, but it does mean we should treat people like fellow human beings and not pre-judge them. It was right for England to offer sanctuary to the Huguenots fleeing from religious persecution in France, even though one of their descendants turned out to be Nigel Farage. It was right for our country to offer asylum to Jews fleeing from pogroms in Eastern Europe in the 19th century, and it would have been to our credit if we had accepted many more Jewish refugees prior to the 2nd World War. Lord Alf Dubs, himself a Jewish child refugee from Nazism, asked our country to show the same compassion to child refugees stuck in the camps in Calais. It is still not too late for our Government to relent on this issue, and take in the numbers of child refugees that were originally suggested.
Nobody is suggesting that Britain should provide an open door. It was Harold Wilson’s Labour government which first provided a sensible immigration policy. But while we cannot and should not invite all and sundry in with open arms, it is completely outrageous that our Home Office is threatening British Citizens with deportation, loss of their rights to health treatment, dismissal from their jobs, loss of their pensions, and so on. Someone who has lived and worked in this country since before 1973 should not have to produce a whole series of documents to prove their citizenship – how many millions would risk deportation if that rule was extended to us all?
A decent immigration policy would not demonise people because of their race or religion. It would not split up families. It would not take people in and welcome their labour and take their taxes and then arbitrarily deport them decades later. We need to control immigration to this country – but we also need to ensure that all those who are in this country are treated with respect and in accordance with natural justice.
Whether people are male or female, black or white, Christian or Jewish or Muslim or Agnostic, disabled or gay or short or born in Dennington or Doncaster or Dhaka, if they are committed to our town we should welcome their contribution. I am proud to represent a town that recognises that – anything less would shame us all.