On Monday 27th, as we were celebrating 75 years of the Liberation of Auschwitz, the Cathedral of Truro helped to organised a Remembrance Service and a series of displays about the Holocaust. Jewish people living in Cornwall were invited to present their stories. The Service was well attended, and after each presentation a different candle was lit.
I was invited to participate in one of the stands presenting the experience of migrant workers in Cornwall, as I am helping with the project run by the charity Bridging Arts and the Diocese of Truro called I PACKED THIS MYSELF.
When people approached our stand, I asked them to reflect on how welcoming we are towards foreign labour. In Cornwall we are blessed with large numbers of people coming from Eastern Europe that come to work in temporary jobs, picking flowers and harvesting farms with vegetables. Also, some from Portugal or Romania, who have come to settle with their families, and work in factories processing food, where the temperature is kept extremely low.
On our display we were showing pieces of arts made by students at Falmouth College, that looked like suitcases. One showing what the migrant workers said they carried with them when they came. Which makes us think, what would you take with you if you had to travel light to another country for few months?
A young Cornish Student made a small statue of himself to show his experience of working in one of these factories during his summer holidays. Everybody around was speaking in different languages, and he found himself completely isolated and alone in his own country. Languages, customs, traditions, they all create barriers among us.
A police officer came to speak to me. He explained that Cornwall Police has a special team of officers working with foreigners, dealing with calls where local people living in Cornwall accuse them of stealing or assaulting people. He explained to us that it might be very few cases, but the word spread around quickly and it has created the perception that there are lots and lots of cases.
A statement from Devon and Cornwall Police says: Equality, diversity and human rights are central to the Police force providing an excellent service in preserving life and protecting our communities from harm. A fairer society benefits everyone, and the police service has a key role to play in promoting equality and human rights and tackling discrimination. Promoting equality, and human rights and respecting diversity are the foundations to creating greater community confidence in the police.
My reflection for this day was: How are we making foreign workers feel welcome? When we see them in groups at the Supermarket, how do we look at them? Are we pleasant towards them or do we have an antagonising look?
Are we happy with them as long as they stay out of sight in their caravans in the hidden farms? Or even better if our country makes so difficult for them to come, that we don’t have to see them at all.
Changes in people's attitudes
Although I have been in Cornwall since 2001, there are changes that I have seen in people's attitude towards me, since the Brexit Referendum. One of the narratives in 2016 was very clear: foreign workers come to England to steal our jobs.
Cornwall has a very high unemployment rate, and it is thanks to foreign workers that come from Eastern Europe and work for nothing, some people argue. It was at this time that I was unable to find an office job for almost two years, and coincidentally I lost the status of permanent resident due to a change in law. It was a very difficult time indeed.
From 2001 until 2016 local people were always friendly and welcoming, and all of a sudden, some people’s views and attitudes were different. Now they had an opinion on foreign labour and several times I was told: Go back to your country.
My answer has not changed… I am home.
My final reflection is to think on how we let radio talk programs, marketing advertising, and political narratives, to influence and change our own thoughts and attitudes towards other people.
God bless you.