A frozen body landing a suburban garden is shocking on many levels and a stark image of world inequality.
The Daily Mail has the story on its front page today with the headline: “STOWAWAY FALLS FROM JET – INTO GARDEN OF SUNBATHER.”
A sub-heading records the “frozen body horror”, adding that the corpse fell into the garden of a £2m house. In Mail-speak, the value of the house seems as important as a life lost in foolhardy pursuit of hope.
According to a neighbour, police were called to an address in Clapham, south London, following the discovery of the body.
Kenyan Airways confirmed the body fell from the landing gear of a flight to Heathrow. The plane had taken off in Nairobi, where we can assume the man smuggled himself on board.
It takes only a little imagination to see this poor man dart across the hot tarmac, scramble into the wheel housing, then hunker down for the long journey, dreaming of a hopeful new life, but soon losing the warmth of his native land and lapsing into frozen, airless sleep.
And don’t forget the shock of that other man sunbathing in his garden. We are inviolable in our gardens, spaces we make secluded and special. A frozen body crashing to the ground is about as shocking an intrusion as you can imagine.
We are often presented with stories, and sometimes images, that encapsulate the plight of asylum seekers. Only last week, the US was appalled by a photograph of an asylum seeker who drowned with his daughter.
The harrowing photo showed Salvadoran migrant Oscar Alberto Martinez, who was 25, and his two-year-old daughter Angie Valeria lying face down in the water.
Oscar had tucked his daughter under his T-shirt, as if in a futile attempt to protect her. That detail made the photo even more upsetting.
The use of such stark images presents moral dilemmas. Yet while the photo was discomforting, better to see it and be reminded of the reality of migration in an unbalanced world, than to keep our eyes shut.
In the US, the photo put new focus on the plight of those fleeing Central America, only to run up against President Trump’s harsh asylum policies.
We might not like Trump and his cheap anti-foreigner rhetoric, but Europe hardly has a good record. Migrants have drowned in our seas too as they try to leave a harsh homeland for somewhere supposedly kinder.
In 2015, photographs showed the drowned migrant toddler Alan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian, lying face down on a beach in Kos, Greece.
Such an appalling image changes everything; and then turns out to change nothing much, sadly.
Both that photo and the one from last week remind us of the grim human reality of migration. These people aren’t hostiles, invaders, others; they are just people, usually poor people, endangered people. People desperate enough to put all faith in a rubber dinghy or the undercarriage of an aircraft.
A more uplifting story can be found in Abdul Haroun, the Sudanese migrant who was so intent on getting to Britain that he walked through the Channel Tunnel in 2015.
He was arrested close to the tunnel’s Folkstone exit. Bizarrely, he was charged under an 1861 Act shaped to punish those who obstruct railway engines or carriages. Haroun later pleaded guilty but was freed due to time spent on remand.
Anyone who is prepared to put themselves through such an ordeal deserves to stay here. Thankfully, Abdul Haroun was granted asylum. A good outcome, unlike the fate that befell the stowaway on that flight from Nairobi.