Life

Mary Kelly: Tory Britain now a haven for human traffickers

Not everyone supports the Tories' immigration policies - demonstrators protested against plans to send migrants to Rwanda last summer. Picture by Victoria Jones/PA Wire.
Not everyone supports the Tories' immigration policies - demonstrators protested against plans to send migrants to Rwanda last summer. Picture by Victoria Jones/PA Wire. Not everyone supports the Tories' immigration policies - demonstrators protested against plans to send migrants to Rwanda last summer. Picture by Victoria Jones/PA Wire.
A young child amongst a group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, following a small boat incident in the Channel in 2022. Picture by Gareth Fuller/PA Wire.
A young child amongst a group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, following a small boat incident in the Channel in 2022. Picture by Gareth Fuller/PA Wire. A young child amongst a group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, following a small boat incident in the Channel in 2022. Picture by Gareth Fuller/PA Wire.

WELCOME to Tory-ruled Britain where the Home Office has now provided a barge to accommodate asylum seekers, on a 'no choice' basis.

The Government insist that you have to be on UK soil in order to claim asylum. But you have no legal way to do this when you're across the Channel. So you pay money to human traffickers, who will provide you a leaky boat to get across – but that makes you an illegal immigrant, so the British will lock you up until they can deport you to a country like Rwanda.

And, if you don't like it, the Tory deputy chairman, Lee Anderson, says you can "eff off back to France."

They're also promising jail for "crooked" lawyers whom the Daily Mail claim are "coaching" immigrants. It's easier than dealing with the huge backlog of 137,000 asylum claims.

Not everyone supports the Tories' immigration policies - demonstrators protested against plans to send migrants to Rwanda last summer. Picture by Victoria Jones/PA Wire.
Not everyone supports the Tories' immigration policies - demonstrators protested against plans to send migrants to Rwanda last summer. Picture by Victoria Jones/PA Wire. Not everyone supports the Tories' immigration policies - demonstrators protested against plans to send migrants to Rwanda last summer. Picture by Victoria Jones/PA Wire.

I haven't been to much at the Féile this year, but I would highly recommend Tom Hartley's tour of Belfast City Cemetery. I joined around 60 people braving occasional downpours last Sunday to hear about the great and the good who are buried there.

They included many of the leading unionist figures of the last century and before, many of whom were leading lights in the Irish language movement, who, like Linda Ervine now, saw no conflict between their unionism and their love of the native language.

Tom Hartley is an expert on the history of Belfast's City Cemetery
Tom Hartley is an expert on the history of Belfast's City Cemetery Tom Hartley is an expert on the history of Belfast's City Cemetery

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It was also good to hear about the lesser-known women who made a great contribution to our society, including the founder of Victoria College, Margaret Byers, who was a champion of education for women, and Margaret Carlisle, whose active fundraising saw the establishment of the Royal Victoria Hospital.

There was the modest grave of the philanthropist, Vere Foster, who had used his family fortune to organise famine-relief efforts and worked to improve the passage of those escaping to America.

Belfast City Cemetery. Picture by Hugh Russell
Belfast City Cemetery. Picture by Hugh Russell Belfast City Cemetery. Picture by Hugh Russell

He supported national schools in Ireland and was the first president of what became Irelands' largest teaching union. Yet he died in poverty.

There were gravestones that showed one family who had lost six children as infants, one after the other, testament to the effects of poverty and the sicknesses that were killers before vaccinations and universal healthcare.

But a nearby grave, filled with blue balloons and inflatable dinosaurs to mark the second birthday of a little boy, was a sober reminder that there are still families grieving the untimely death of a beloved child.

Youth hostel and sign post direction for walkers, travellers and tourists in rural countryside wilderness
Youth hostel and sign post direction for walkers, travellers and tourists in rural countryside wilderness Youth hostel and sign post direction for walkers, travellers and tourists in rural countryside wilderness

It was sad to hear that the Youth Hostels Association in England and Wales is having to sell off 20 hostels in many beauty spots because of financial pressures brought on by Covid and the cost of living crisis, with a further 30 at risk of being off-loaded in the next three years.

The reduction in school trips to the UK from Europe following Brexit has also been a factor. Hostels used to provide cheap, if somewhat spartan, accommodation, which put travel, both here and further afield, within the scope of young people and those of slender means.

The local version, YHANI, was the first organisation I ever joined, aged 12, when I first escaped family holidays to travel with a few schoolmates to youth hostels in Minerstown, Newcastle and Slievenaman.

The hostels were clean, but basic, and the rules included being given 'chores' by the live-in warden, who also kept a strict 11pm lights-out rule. Our parents were happy that we were safe and well chaperoned, and of course weren't told that we'd hitch-hiked between hostels.

The Troubles had just begun, but there were still plenty of young foreign travellers from all parts of the world, who were endlessly exotic to us.

We later graduated to the Antrim coast and hostels in Ballygally, Whitepark Bay and Ballycastle, before venturing next to England and Scotland. Then, armed with an Inter-rail pass, it was destination Europe, fortified by packets of Bachelor's soups and baguettes spread with a lurid ham paste that squeezed out of a tube.

Interrailing in Europe was once a rite of passage for Irish youths
Interrailing in Europe was once a rite of passage for Irish youths Interrailing in Europe was once a rite of passage for Irish youths

We saved costs by sleeping on overnight train journeys, but never had enough money for the time we were spending away. My friend recalled me asking, "Do you think tomorrow we could afford a tomato?". We were in Spain – it was time to go home.

There are only a few of the original YHANI hostels left now, in Belfast, Whitepark Bay and Bushmills. They offered independence, a chance to meet other people and a communal sense that travel belonged to everyone, not just the well-off.

What a loss.