17 March 2008

Back to the ejection of the migrant workers in Penzance. Penwith council has set out its arguments in a letter to the Cornishman, a local newspaper, and the blog St Ivean, which first challenged these events, has counter-replied.

I still don’t know clearly what happened, the sequence of events, whether this was the only way as Penwith council suggests, or whether there was a better way as the St Ivean suggests. We need more knowledge to be able to judge. Half a story, which is what we have at present, is not good enough.

Were the laws under which the authorities acted correctly followed? Is a dawn raid usual practice among authorities in circumstances like these? How many migrants are we talking about, were there any children (the original Cornishman report mentions a “family” so presumably there were), how many properties were involved, what was the issue with each, what are the migrants’ living circumstances now? Will they get their lost wages? Will anyone be prosecuted for anything?

There is also an unnecessary confusion about rehousing and the language of the council on this issue in the original 14 February report and in the Cornishman letter is unhelpfully fuzzy where it should be clear. I see the difficulty: the council cannot stand aside from overcrowded and unsafe accommodation, if that is what it was, and yet it does not have to rehouse temporary migrants. In such circumstances what is and should be its policy as homelessness is not acceptable either? This is a difficult question which should be publicly aired.

It isn’t just a question of more knowledge; there is an issue of how the council does things and how its actions are perceived. The quotations in the Cornishman report of 14 February suggest that some of the migrant workers were seriously unhappy at the circumstances of their ejection and that they have a perception of being treated with too little respect by the council that sought to help them. This should make Penwith and the other authorities think whether there are things they could have done differently for the same final result. It would be reassuring to be told that they have discussed the events with the migrant workers and got their considered take on it so that the views of those being helped can inform the ways of helping.

I certainly support work to ensure that migrant workers get a fair deal and I believe the council and other authorities have their interests at heart – that is unreservedly commendable and the importance and value of this work should not be lost sight of in the questions thrown up. The point now is to ascertain what happened and whether there is or isn’t a better way to deal with this sort of circumstance as migrant workers are part of life in west Cornwall and there will be other days.