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A better life

05/06/2013

Jose Matada

A new arrival in south west London by the name of Jose Matada. Chelsea’s latest multi-million pound signing? A silky skilled, ball retaining midfielder from the Iberian peninsula with a model girlfriend and a smart townhouse on one of them streets off the King’s Road?

Well, not quite. But I daresay that this young man had some of the same hopes and dreams, if perhaps on a more modest scale, as the staggeringly well paid foreign footballers that we welcome to these shores with open arms. Sadly, we’ll never know.

Jose Matada’s body was found in a street in Mortlake early one Sunday morning last September. He’d fallen 2,000 feet from a plane as it made the descent into Heathrow airport. A SIM card and the distinctive tattoos on his fingers enabled investigators to eventually identify him as a 26 year old from Mozambique. A former employer described Jose’s desire to make a better life for himself in Europe. Beyond that there is little that is known of Jose’s life. No details of any family. No smiley Facebook photo. No tributes from friends and colleagues. No minute’s silence or black ribbons.

The recent inquest, attended by only four people, concluded that Jose probably died due to hypothermia and lack of oxygen. He’d stowed away in the undercarriage of flight BA76 from Luanda in Angola. The 4,000 mile journey to London takes about nine hours and during that time the T-shirted Mozambican would have had to endure temperatures of minus sixty degrees centigrade.

It’s difficult to comprehend how desperate someone has to be to clamber into the undercarriage of a jumbo jet under the cover of darkness in the vague hope of finding a better life across the other side of the world. Jose wasn’t the first to try it and is unlikely to be the last. As ill-informed bigots rattle on about “illegals” on Question Time and the right wing press indulges in more scaremongering about the impending flood of Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants, the truth is that it is extremely difficult to enter the UK and Europe as an outsider. That’s why hundreds of people lose their lives each year trying to cross the Mediterranean in tiny, ill-equipped boats. And it’s why Jose Matada felt compelled to make his fateful journey.

Of course, there was scant coverage of this story in the national media. When it comes to immigration we tend to prefer to deal in numbers rather than focus on the extraordinary courage of some of our fellow human beings. One national newspaper’s website included a brief animated video of what someone falling from the undercarriage of a plane as it lowered its wheels for landing would look like. As if this is the only element of a tragic news story that we would possibly be interested in.

A generation ago unemployed people in Britain were urged to get on their bikes to look for employment elsewhere. Now when people board planes, boats, trains and buses to search for a better life for themselves they’re often accused of trying to take advantage of our overly generous benefits system or get “something for nothing” on the NHS. There are probably some people out there who think that Jose Matada clambered into that plane in Luanda for a life of day time television and scrounging benefits.

It beggars belief at times how cynical and devoid of compassion for our fellow human beings the debate on immigration has become. UKIP won a stack seats in last week’s council elections largely as a result of their tough stance on immigration and talk of caps on numbers entering the country. As a result, in the run-up to the 2015 general election we will doubtless witness the spectacle of the main parties trying to out-tough each other on immigration. Lots of numbers will be bandied around but there will be precious little humanity.

We can continue to blindly consume cheap clothing manufactured by workers who are paid peanuts in unsafe factories in countries thousands of miles away. We can continue to build the walls higher to stop people from coming in. But the tragic end to Jose Matada’s courageous journey offers a stark reminder that we ignore the human consequences of these actions at our peril.

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From → Refugees

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