Mark Williamson: Migration has helped to build our strong local community

PUBLISHED: 12:00 25 October 2020

Sue Perkins: Along the US-Mexico Border on BBC One. Photo: Craig Hastings/BBC/Big Wheel Film & Television

Sue Perkins: Along the US-Mexico Border on BBC One. Photo: Craig Hastings/BBC/Big Wheel Film & Television

Craig Hastings/BBC/Big Wheel Film & Television

In his latest column, East Devon Honarary Alderman writes how migration is important and Exmouth ‘isn’t an island’

Mark Williamson, East Devon Honorary AldermanMark Williamson, East Devon Honorary Alderman

I don’t often watch a TV programme which I can’t get out of my mind – even when I’m walking the commons in autumn sunshine against the backdrop of a glistening sea.

I’d watched Sue Perkins’ documentary about the migrants on the Mexican border. When I got home I turned on the news. A fire had raged through a migrant camp on Lesbos. Twelve thousand migrants who had left everything had lost everything.

It’s hard to comprehend what hardships face the millions across the world who just want a safer and better future for themselves and their families.

We haven’t seen overcrowded inflatables arriving on our own beaches but many of us can look back in our family history and find forebears who made similar journeys, albeit less hazardous.

My own grandfather arrived at Tilbury on a cargo ship from Eastern Europe, spent his working life building homes, shops and a hospital and became a local councillor.

Five years ago when the Syrian migrant crisis hit the headlines scores of people in East Devon offered rooms and even jobs while recognising ongoing problems in our own community.

One resident said: “We can’t solve every problem but if we can solve one we must.”

Exmouth isn’t a fortified island with its own passport.

We are hugely dependent on a migrant workforce, skilled and unskilled - the NHS, care homes, construction and transport – all significant employers in East Devon.

You only have to visit a hospital and, if you are allowed, a care home to see it for yourself.

Maybe Covid will change the job market but this will take time.

There’s something I hear every day when I say a thank you to the person whose opened a door for me or picked up my dropped car keys. It tells us everything about this great part of the world and about what we think about those who come from afar to help us – ‘You’re welcome!’

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