It’s impossible to imagine the plight of those risking life and limb to leave their homes in Syria and North Africa in search of survival in Europe. To say that these people are desperate is to put it in the mildest of terms.
The UK Government yesterday committed to taking 20,000 refugees from Syria over the next five years, working with the UN to bring people from existing refugee camps rather than to reward those travelling across Eastern Europe. This fulfils the country’s moral obligation to provide support for these humans in need as well as keeping the anti-immigration line that untamed hordes, or a “swarm” as David Cameron called them just a month ago, won’t be flooding our shores any time soon.
The Scottish Government and fragmented opposition of the Labour party have both been vocal in calling the Government to account on the refugee crisis. A parliamentary debate will be held at Westminster today as called for by Yvette Cooper, Labour leadership candidate, and one will be held tomorrow at the behest of the SNP. Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale both made moving tributes to the refugees at First Minister’s Questions last Thursday and the Scottish Government’s commitment to “offer sanctuary” to 1,000 refugees was a noble gesture in bringing the UK Government to further action – as the SNP are effectively powerless to effect any change in immigration or foreign policy.
Even though the press has firmly backed supporting refugees in the last week, and the political parties have followed, public opinion is still resisting to support bringing desperate people to the UK. A weekend Populus poll suggested that 51% were opposed to bringing in any refugees to the country, with only 17% supporting what the Government is proposing in bringing 20,000 to the country. 20,000 refugees over 5 years amount to just over 6 people per Westminster constituency, or the equivalent of adding 1 large family to each community in the country. While we are the most geographically distant country in the EU from the epicentre of this current influx of people – we are the second most populous and second most economically successful. Germany, the leader in both those categories, is taking 800,000 by comparison. Doing something is much better than doing nothing, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves that the UK is a leading moral force in this current international problem.
UKIP have dominated the agenda for more than a year when it comes to our relation with other countries especially when immigration and freedom of movement are concerned, but they have rightly been silent over the last few weeks. This has been played by some as an immigration problem when it is truly a humanitarian crisis. These aren’t people coming to Britain because they want to claim benefits at our cost, these are people that are going wherever they can because their home is no longer home.
But still the public perception of foreigners coming to the country and taking from us what they “have not earned” is driving our moral decisions in a time where we should be less concerned with the socioeconomic impact compared with a genuine human response to people in crisis.
Immigration is no bad thing, and surely it is within us all to have the basic compassion to give people a chance when they have almost literally nothing. Scenes from Syria represent the absolute worst that humanity can do to itself, so providing at least the right of shelter to people who have gone through four years of war is entirely the right thing to do. Argue all you want about whether people should come to our country in search of a better life when they live in developed countries in Eastern Europe, it’s a real debate with points of merit on both sides, but surely it is beyond argument to deny a family that has travelled thousands of miles on cramped boats and lorries to live in tents on their way to anywhere that will take them the chance, the mere chance, to have a life worth living.
Alan Kurdi was one of many thousands of people to have died crossing the Mediterranean this year. The 3-year-old lost his life along with his mother and brother. He was one of many thousands but the image of him lying face down in the water on the beach in Bodrum has help kick-start a continent-wide sea change in attitudes towards refugees. The last week has showed that he did not die in vain, as long as that spirit continues.
You can play your part in helping with the refugee crisis by signing petitions, donating to charities or supporting grassroots groups.