The problem with statistics

Inexplicably, the bombings in London – committed by four British guys – have reawakened the frenzied debate about asylum seekers and illegal immigrants.

A lot of the papers today have covered the story about the government’s failure to meet their asylum targets – that is, they wanted to be deporting more people than were coming in.

The problem with this is that it gets people thinking about numbers and net gain to the population and about those who are categorised as illegal or legal, as economic migrants (is that what anyone who moves to live nearer to their work is?) or terrorist wannabes, instead of focusing on lives.

So it’s apt that the guardian news blog today re-high-lighted the story of Verah Kachepa, and her four children – whose case made front page news during the last election because some odious lying tory scumbag (that narrows it down to, er, all of them then) doctored a picture of Anne Widdecombe protesting on behalf of the family so that it then displayed some crap about controlled immigration, like so –

So this week, Ms Widdecombe, George Galloway and other are calling for this family to be allowed to stay, once again.

We know their story, we’ve seen them in the press, we’ve heard her interviews. The trouble is, there are thousands of stories like this, and crass government targets gloss over the personal stories of threat and tragedy and torture and persecution and good ole fashioned wanting a better life for your family, in favour of quotas and soundbites and the fear of driving the country to the right by being soft on immigration.

This weekend, I had a long conversation with a whole load of 60+ essex residents, all of whom typified the muddled racist rhetoric of middle england. Lots of talk about the colour of their neighbours, mixed in with the problem with muslims but still acknowledging when challenged that none of the problems were anything to do with race or religion and that just as many people have trouble with antisocial neighbours who are white and british born as those who have trouble with immigrant neighbours. When given the language to unpack their situation, race became far less of a feature in the complaints, but the governments statistical chat is lost on a middle england populus who only tell stories about troublesome neighbours when they are definable as ‘them’.

I really hope the Kachepa family are allowed to stay – to deport them would be inhuman, as inhuman as many of the other deportations that go on to try and keep the quotas met. Quotas are bad enough when we’re talking about traffic wardens dishing out enough tickets. When it comes to whether or not to send someone back to a situation where they face persecution or even death, let’s drop the stats and hear the story. If it means we miss the targets, so what?