Saturday, 1 March 2008

Book Review – Enslaved by Rahila Gupta

Published last year to coincide with the 200 year celebration of the 1807 Abolition of Slavery Act, I had heard good things about this book. So when I saw it on a lunchtime visit to the library next door to my office (perfect), I grabbed it.

The book presented as five case studies of five very different people. A young woman refugee from the Somali civil war, A young European woman trafficked into Britain to work in the sex trade, A child fleeing from strife in Sierra Leone brought to the country as an unpaid domestic servant, a Chinese man smuggled through Europe by the snakeheads and a young Bride from the Punjab abused on her arrival to the UK by her in-laws and eventually discarded.

This book made me feel very humbled, considering that these people live in the same country as me yet many don’t have the same basic rights as me. Each case study is in-depth and based on extensive interviews with each person. Rahila Gupta details the (often perilous) journeys people make into this country, the poverty and desperate conditions they find themselves trapped in when they get here and their treatment at the hands of immigration officials. She shows how people are trafficked into various forms of slavery and how immigration laws effectively keep them there.

I felt I could relate to the woman from the Punjab, in terms of understanding how powerful the concept of izzat (honour) can be and how a good woman is one that is obedient to her parents, in-laws and husband regardless of what abuse is being perpetrated against her (I have often noticed how our community sees a good child or woman as an obedient one, a person is acceptable once the spirit is knocked out of them and vowed not to do the same with my children – at the moment I am being rewarded with bare-face attitude)

In recent times the issue of immigration has been major one in the UK , used by newspapers and politicians to further their own ends. This has had major effect on the publics perception on immigrants and consequently, perhaps their treatment of them. The book makes an interesting point about how this country’s concept of Englishness has always been based on the creation of an “other”. A role played by various groups of immigrants through history.

I have found that many immigrants who have been here since the first waves in the 50’s and 60’s now have an attitude of “there are too many people coming in” and “the immigrants are taking our jobs and houses” without the slightest hint of irony and the book does pick up on this.

This book is an excellent reminder of how these people didn’t all choose to come here and are not all “scroungers”. It goes so far as to provide figures to show that they benefit our economy and argues that we might not be able to receive the services and products we are use to without them. It certainly makes a valiant attempt to put paid to the notion that we are being “swamped”. At the very least it should help us to see immigrants, whether illegal or legal as human beings, often in difficult or dangerous situations.

1 comment:

  1. This is another beautiful review which hits at an important issue facing Britain. It is interest yet heartbreaking to think that some ethnic minority have adopted the attitude that immigrants are swamping Britain. Lets just hope that the facts can speak for themselves soon to show that immigrants are a great benefit to the country.