Natalie Bennett: Only Greens are standing up for migrants

4 May 2015

Natalie Bennett, Green Party leader, has delivered a passionate speech in defence of migrants as her party hits the campaign trail for the last few days before the General Election. Bennett spoke alongside Green Party MEP Jean Lambert.

Bennett, who was born in Australia but is a British citizen, began her speech by saying:

"I'm standing here today as a migrant, as someone who came to this country and chose to make my life here. And today I'm here to take a stand against those who seek to demonise me and those like me for making that choice."

Bennett made the speech at a Kurdish community centre in North London. Her party has announced plans to end immigration detention, and change immigration rules which mean that only those with a salary above £18,600 can apply for spousal visas.

Ms Bennett criticised the Labour Party for failing to stand up for migrants.

She said:

"It was Labour's lack of backbone that proved just how far our politics has been infiltrated by anti-immigrant rhetoric. Rather than standing up to Nigel Farage and his chums, Labour wilted. Rather than showing real opposition, they have adopted a harsh rhetoric - proudly pledging their plans on banners and merchandise to 'control immigration'."

Bennett's heartfelt speech saw her pledge to "never blame migrants for failures of government policy, or the greed and fraud of the bankers". She ended her speech with a rallying call to potential Green voters. She said:

"At this election the open and caring Britain I am so proud to be a citizen of is at stake. Our tolerance, our welfare state and our beloved NHS are under threat from a Tory Party hell-bent on rebuilding Britain to work only for the privileged - and a Labour Party unable and unwilling to effectively challenge them.

"So, in the next three days I know that our candidates up and down this country will be focussed on providing the real opposition we so desperately need. We'll be fighting for a truly public NHS, we'll be saying loud and clear that in the sixth richest country on earth no one should need food handouts to survive, and we'll be boldly and unapologetically standing up for migrants."

ENDS

1) Bennett made the speech at the Kurdish Community Centre in Haringey.

FULL SPEECH:

Thank you all for being here this morning.

I'm standing here today as a migrant, as someone who came to this country and chose to make my life here. And today I'm here to take a stand against those who seek to demonise me and those like me for making that choice.

There are just three days left until the most crucial general election this country has seen for a generation - an election in which we have the chance to break away from the consensus politics offered by the business-as-usual parties.

Nowhere is this consensus clearer than on the topic of immigration. The so-called immigration debate, which has so often descended into a vicious rhetorical race to the bottom, has, for me, been the most depressing part of this campaign.

Elections should be about discussion and disagreement - but for months now we've seen the entire political establishment trying to sound 'tough' in an attempt to win back votes from UKIP.

As a migrant, and someone who loves this country for the tolerance it has shown those arriving on its shores, I've watched in horror as politicians line up to blame those not born here for failures of Government policy.

And as a migrant - and a British citizen who chose to be British - I utterly reject those who try to divide us by our country of birth. I may have been born on the other side of the world, but that doesn't mean that I don't love this country.

As UKIP rose to prominence over the last five years it was no surprise to see the Tories attempt to sure-up their right flank by clamping down on migrants. They promised caps, they set targets, and they failed even on their own terms.

But it was Labour's lack of backbone that proved just how far our politics has been infiltrated by anti-immigrant rhetoric. Rather than standing up to Nigel Farage and his chums, Labour wilted. Rather than showing real opposition, they have adopted a harsh rhetoric - proudly pledging their plans on banners and merchandise to 'control immigration'.

Rather than challenging myths around so-called health tourism, and rather than championing the rights of migrants, they have abandoned them, leaving them to take the blame for everything from a lack of affordable housing to pressures on our NHS.

But I know I am not alone in my disappointment in Labour.

The generosity of the British people who have donated millions to help Syrian refugees, who have lost everything and been forced to leave their homes, has filled me with hope.

The concern that has been expressed by the British public for the men, women and children risking their lives in the Mediterranean Sea to escape war and hardship, has inspired me to campaign harder than ever for change

Because the Green Party offers a message of hope on immigration.

And it begins with a promise. My party will never blame migrants for failures of government policy, or the greed and fraud of the bankers. We will never attack the most vulnerable in society to distract from the inaction of the most powerful.

We know that this country faces serious problems. A chronic underinvestment in our housing stock, the ceaseless privatisation of our public services and an economic model that means that one in five workers earns less than a Living Wage. But these problems are not caused by migrants. They are the result of the systematic failure of government policy.

And we take hope from the free movement of people in the European Union. Not so long ago our continent was at war – and in the aftermath saw decades of division. But whether you're a tourist from Poland or a barman from Britain, you can now travel and work across our continent freely – and that's something to be proud of.

Part of the story of migration so often ignored by those in power is the desperate plight of refugees seeking safety. Britain can, and must, do more for those fleeing danger. The fact that we've only taken 142 Syrian refugees is a disgrace. And the Government's shameful role in ending the EU's search and rescue mission in the Mediterranean is a stain on their record.

Greens would welcome far more Syrian refugees – bringing us into line with our European neighbours, and we'd immediately move to restart life-saving missions on our continent's southern shore.

It's time to give a message of hope to those fleeing persecution and war: Britain can and must be a safe haven for refugees.

And That's why the Green Party would end the disgraceful indefinite detention of migrants. Because nobody should be locked up for years for being in the wrong country - and due process is a right that everyone should be guaranteed.

Greens would also end the discriminatory rule that you must earn £18,600 before your non-EU spouse can move here. Living as a family should not be a right reserved only for those who earn an arbitrary amount.

At this election the open and caring Britain I am so proud to be a citizen of is at stake. Our tolerance, our welfare state and our beloved NHS are under threat from a Tory Party hell-bent on rebuilding Britain to work only for the privileged - and a Labour Party unable and unwilling to effectively challenge them.

So, in the next three days I know that our candidates up and down this country will be focussed on providing the real opposition we so desperately need. We'll be fighting for a truly public NHS, we'll be saying loud and clear that in the sixth richest country on earth no one should need food handouts to survive, and we'll be boldly and unapologetically standing up for migrants.

ENDS






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