Charles Graham - Who can fail to be distressed at the year’s migrant crisis?

Charles Graham
Charles Graham

THE first thing I generally do when I’m about to write my final column of the year is have a flick through the last 12 months of Evening Posts to test the general mood.

Looking at 2013’s files and it was wonderfully upbeat, despite ongoing local government belt-tightening, as folk rode on a wave of amazing sporting successes for our local football and rugby teams.

Surveying the 2015 headlines has proved a quite different experience. There is no way of getting away from the fact that there has been a lot of grim news about.

And of course I am not just talking local affairs either.

The world is facing its worst refugee crisis since the Second World War as genocide continues in Syria and Islamic fanatics try to hold the planet to murderous ransom.

Who can fail to have been distressed to see so many people being forced to pull up their roots and make often lethal journeys to foreign lands?

I know it’s not as straightforward as that, as the sheer volume of people seeking refuge takes on biblical proportions and puts tremendous strain on other countries’ economies and its people’s tolerance.

And there is no denying either that betwixt and between the many fleeing in genuine fear of their lives are economic migrants and, of course, a dangerous few who would do the West real harm.

All I can say is that while we are entitled to put our own interests high up, we should also place ourselves in the position of the refugees and the peoples of the countries adjoining devastated lands, such as Syria, who are facing an influx of displaced people so large that it makes the numbers getting to these shores look tiny in comparison.

In Wigan the smooth integration of a relatively small number of asylum-seekers hasn’t been helped by so many of them being dumped in one prominent Standish hotel, although when we have spoken to the police about the various allegations of suspicious and/or criminal activity made against these people that circulate on social media like wildfire, officers can find little or no evidence that they are true.

A classic case of fear of the unknown, fanned of course by those in the news who kill in the name of Islam and who dearly want the frightened West to fear all Muslims.

I would have thought that the last think anyone trying to find a new life in Wigan would want to do is fall foul of the authorities by breaking the laws of the land, but there you go.

News-wise Islam has been the word of the year; usually, sadly, because it has been dragged into the headlines by extremists, whether through atrocities such as those in Paris, the breakdown in some of the so-called Arab spring countries and the aforementioned torrent of refugees from largely Muslim lands.

The billions of honest, peace-loving Muslims who just want to get on with their lives must despair utterly.

Of course a Wiganer got caught up in one of the Islamic conflict spin-offs: that in Turkey. Vice News cameraman Philip Pendlebury and two colleagues found themselves arrested and chucked in jail on suspicion of terrorist offences while filming a clash between protestors and Turkish police.

The detention caused an international incident, with Amnesty heading the global outrcry. And happily Philip and reporter Jake Hanrahan were released after a relatively short period, but their translator Mohammed Rasool remains incarcerated.

ON the economic front it has been a year of contrasts locally. The official statistics show that the Jobseeker’s Allowance count (a measure of unemployment) has continued to go encouragingly downwards.

But that’s not to say there have not been big blows. Betfred earlier this month closed its call centre at Tote Park with the loss of more than 100 jobs and it has been a torrid year for Hovis workers in New Springs who could soon be facing another round of job cuts.

On the plus side (hooray, some positive news at last!) the borough can look forward to some major job creation schemes in the new year: not least the transfer of the Nicepak facewipe business to the borough’s biggest ever building at Westwood Park with 100 new posts adding to the 150-strong workforce and hundreds more jobs coming as Poundland sets up a giant distribution centre in Bryn.

It is a long time since coal was the mainstay of the Wigan economy. But it was with some irony that in the same week that the UK’s final deep mine (Kellingley in Yorkshire) closed, Wigan appeared on a new map which gives a company licence to have first dibs – should approval be granted – at fracking underneath us.

That some people who yearn for the return of the borough’s pits are now opposed to the extraction of another form of fossil fuel seems a little odd, but there is a way to go yet before it is decided whether any drilling takes place here.

I AM determined, after what has been a predominantly gloomy annual survey, to have an upbeat note.

To do that I look no further than the charitable nature of the borough’s people.

Hardship has a habit of bringing folk together and locals have continued to respond magnificently to causes, not least those centering around two young boys with incurable illnesses.

Both Joining Jack and Joseph’s Goal have passed significant financial milestones in recent months and the quest to find cures to Duchenne muscular dystrophy and Non-ketotic hyperglycinemia have been much boosted by the ongoing campaigns.

There was also a heart-stirring response to the blaze which tore through the Wharfside apartments at Wigan Pier and left scores of people temporarily homeless.

The donations of time, provisions and accommodation to those in need were an object lesson in goodwill whatever season of the year it is.

May I wish you all a very happy and prosperous 2016.