When did compassion become a crime? Braverman's alarmist speech stokes fear, not facts, writes Natasha Devon

29 September 2023, 12:04

Braverman's alarmist speech stokes fear, not facts, writes Natasha Devon
Braverman's alarmist speech stokes fear, not facts, writes Natasha Devon. Picture: LBC/Alamy
Natasha Devon MBE

By Natasha Devon MBE

It’s been three days since Suella Braverman travelled to America (at the taxpayer’s expense) to deliver her alarmist, factually incorrect and hate-fuelled speech on refugees and migration.

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Three days in which I have oscillated between anger, fear and disgust.

Three days I have had to think about what I would write in this piece and seriously considered just typing the word ‘ARGH!’ 600 times.

In such circumstances, one hardly knows where to begin, but let’s start with the inaccuracies (or lies, as you’re not allowed to call them in Parliament).

Braverman claimed 780 million people worldwide could fall under what she painted as rather vague criteria for seeking asylum.

This was lifted from a paper published by the right-wing Centre for Policy Studies and is described by foreign affairs journalist Peter Beaumont as ‘a bogus figure being pushed in pursuit of a grubby and cruel argument’.

According to the UN High Commission for Refugees, the number of forcibly displaced people who have fled to other countries currently stands at 35.3 million.

Of those, 5 million people throughout the entire globe are asylum seekers and more than three-quarters of those are hosted by countries neighbouring the ones they fled.

After all, no one actually wants to leave their friends, family, job and the vast majority of their possessions in order to make a perilous journey to a far-flung country where (if they’re lucky enough not to die at sea) they’ll be kept in a state of limbo for years, not allowed to work and receive a pitiful £45 per week to live on.

It’s an extraordinary set of circumstances which brings that about.

Furthermore, Mark Kieran, who worked at the Home Office processing asylum applications, said on Twitter that 'I know the 1951 Refugee Convention’s terms are far clearer than [Braverman’s] pernicious propaganda would suggest'.

He goes on to describe acts of violent persecution that would make anyone with a heart shudder, but which wouldn’t technically meet Braverman’s criteria of a threat to life and are therefore dismissed in her speech as ‘feelings’.

But let’s pretend for one minute that Braverman’s dubious 780 million figure wasn’t some back-of-a-fag-packet scribble.

What kind of person considers that 780 million people are currently being discriminated against on the basis of sexuality, gender, race or religion and concludes that the problem is the criteria for seeking asylum are too generous?

Wouldn’t a more sensible and compassionate response be to funnel one’s efforts into lessening the threat of their persecution?

Instead, Braverman said ‘being gay or a woman isn’t reason enough to claim asylum’ and it was at this point her speech started to feel personal.

I’m not a refugee, but I am a queer woman recently descended from immigrants.

The Office for National Statistics describes violence against women and girls as ‘prevalent’ throughout England and Wales.

Homophobic and transphobic hate crimes have increased by a third and the UK has plummeted down the ‘Rainbow List’ (countries deemed safe for LGBTQ+ people).

Meanwhile, enabled at least in part by the jingoistic rhetoric of Braverman’s government colleagues, racist hate crimes surpassed 100,000 incidents in 2022 for the first time in our country’s history.

These aren’t arbitrary statistics, for me. I have felt the mood shift. I have seen the mainstreaming of misogynistic, homophobic and racist views which would have been considered shocking a decade ago, but now pass without challenge.

I have endured the increase in messages threatening violence on my social media.

I spend more time than ever worrying about the safety of both my chosen and actual families, who increasingly exist in a climate that is hostile to their very existence.

For Braverman to dismiss this as though it’s a game, safe in the knowledge that her racial gatekeeping will insulate her from an ecosystem of hatred she has helped to cause, well it makes me think words I can’t write, here.

So instead, I’ll go back to typing ‘ARGH!’