Celebs say they're ashamed the UK has failed Syrian refugees: they're right

What do Sting, Emma Thompson, Vivienne Westwood and Michelle Dockery have in common? Vivienne Westwood isn’t well known for being a rock star, and Sting hasn’t ever (I don’t think?!) starred in an ITV historical drama (the award-winning Downton Abbey, for those of you – like me – not in the know).

But they do share, along with other celebs, an outrage about the UK’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis. I don’t know if any of them have ever been to Syria, or to any of the many refugee camps or communities where millions of Syrians have fled to... and they don’t need to have.

Because we have all seen the news stories. The millions of people who have had to flee the conflict, the bombs, the Islamic State, persecution. We’ve all seen the pictures of refugees in makeshift camps, digging themselves out of the snow (the worst winter the region has experienced for years, just to add insult to injury).

There are more refugees now than there has been at any other time since the Second World War, and it’s not difficult to see why, when we know that four million refugees have left Syria in need of protection. Syrians now make up the largest population supported by the UN refugee agency.

So it’s right that the celebrities are “ashamed” of the UK’s response. So am I. Out of four million people - including the hundreds of thousands identified as too vulnerable to stay in makeshift camps - the UK has resettled just 90 people. 90. Is that really the best we can do?

The government will tell you that actually a few thousand Syrians have been given asylum in the UK since the beginning of the conflict… but that’s being slightly clever (or disingenuous) in their response.

Those few are the people who have travelled thousands of miles to make it here on their own, and who knows how many have lost their lives trying? And the reality is that journey is incredibly dangerous and difficult – you need to be physically able to make it, have the money to pay, and have a lot of luck.

The most vulnerable people are still in the region, in camps or worse – living in abandoned buildings or even sleeping on the streets, having fled as far as they can.

They’re survivors of torture like Nour – who says she was beaten after she performed first aid on Syrian civilians caught in bombings.  She saw people beaten to death in front of her.

They’re children with medical needs like Arif, whose legs were so badly infected he had to receive bone reconstruction treatment in the UK.  They’re the survivors of Syria’s conflict that have no hope in hell of travelling here alone.

That’s why the government agreed to resettle some Syrian refugees in the first place – because they accepted that sending aid is not enough, some people can’t stay there safely.

And it’s also not fair to say, as a Foreign Office Minister did last week, that Syrian refugees don’t want to find safety out of the region. That’s not what Nour and Arif, who are here, have said. And it presumably doesn’t apply to the thousands who have risked their lives attempting the treacherous journey across the Med in rickety, tragedy prone, boats.

So resettling 90 people, or even “several hundred over three years” (as the government estimates) is a pitiful response to the crisis of a generation. Other countries have pledged to accept thousands of resettled Syrians, in recognition of the enormous need. And the UK has done similar previously – offering temporary protection to thousands of Kosovars and Bosnians during the Balkans conflict of the 90s.

It’s been done before, and it’s being done now by others. So why not here?

What do you have in common with Sting, Emma Thompson, Vivienne Westwood and Michelle Dockery? If, like them, you care about millions of people struggling to survive and you think the UK can and should be doing more, tell your MP. Because the current response? We should all be ashamed.   

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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