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Nobel Prize for Literature: Immigrants deserve empathy, not barbed wire

Written by Guy Faulconbridge and Natalie Thomas

CANTERBURY, England (Reuters) – Tanzanian writer Abdul Razak Garna, winner of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature, said Europe should welcome migrants with compassion, not barbed wire, and that the UK government was “very mean” to asylum seekers.

Qurna, who explored imperialism’s legacy in uprooted individuals in his books, said he was so shocked when the Swedish Academy called him to tell him the award that he initially thought it was a mistake.

He spoke poetically of the experience of immigration, of leaving one’s family and part of one’s life in exchange for living in a new society in which one always feels partly a stranger.

He said he feels the British government seems mean to asylum seekers.

“At the moment, it seems the government is very mean to people seeking asylum or people seeking entry into this country,” Gorna, 73, told Reuters in his garden next to a maple tree in Canterbury, southern England.

“It seems a huge surprise to them that people from difficult places want to come to a country of prosperity. Why are they surprised? Who wouldn’t want to come to a more prosperous country? There is a kind of pettiness in this reaction.”

Guarana, who was born in Zanzibar, now Tanzania, said immigrants don’t come with anything but that they want to work.

He was amazed at the determination and courage of those who had so far traveled to flee their countries for a new life.

“That, in a way, is being couched like it’s immoral, you know they use the phrase ‘economic immigrant,’ as if being an economic immigrant is some kind of crime. Why not?”

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“Over the centuries, millions of Europeans left their homes for this very reason and conquered the world for this very reason,” he said.

Qurna said he is not advocating “anything goes” immigration, but there should be no hostile and abusive representation of immigrants.

He said Brexit revealed a “kind of insignificance” towards the UK, and behind that vote was another narrative about migrants from outside Europe’s borders.