Providing refugees with a second chance in life
I was only 4 when my family left Afghanistan to come to the UK so I don’t remember much of the war, but my parents certainly do. They remember things like hundreds of people being buried alive in their town, my dad’s cousin being taken away by the government and shot in the head, and a family member going out into the garden following a rocket attack to see her children’s body parts laying there. As my Dad explained, they were living in a constant state of fear, every time there was a knock at the door or they heard a rocket flying over them, they thought it was their turn to be killed.
These are things you don’t forget, and you most certainly do not want to experience. The only way my parents felt they could save themselves and their children from this was for them to leave their whole family behind, leave their country behind, leave everything they ever knew to come to the UK – a country which they had no connection to and barely even spoke the language of.
Forward 22 years and here I am, working for Amnesty International. I finished university and even got a master’s degree. I basically had a second chance in life and I couldn’t thank the then UK government enough for giving my family that chance. Yet here we are today facing two of the most shocking refugee crises of our time: the world’s largest refugee crisis since the Second World War as a result of the Syrian war, and the Mediterranean refugee and migrant crisis as a result of instability across the globe. But what is the UK government doing this time round?
Well, they have given an impressive £900 million in aid to support the Syrian refugee crisis and they have provided operational assets, such as a boat (HMS Bulwark) and 3 helicopters, to support the search and rescue mission in the Mediterranean to help save refugees and migrants making the crossing. Unfortunately, HMS Bulwark has been replaced by a ship with less capacity and the government is now focusing on smuggling networks; they have refused to be part of measures within the EU to share responsibility for refugees more fairly among the Member States; they were among those who called for the Italians to withdraw from operation Mare Nostrum; and shockingly, they have only resettled 187 Syrian refugees in the UK.
Since European governments stepped up their search and rescue operations, we have seen a dramatic decrease in the number of refugees and migrants losing their lives while crossing the Mediterranean. This alone highlights the need for all European governments to continue supporting these efforts, rather than downgrading their contribution like the UK has.
When our government is not providing sufficient support, how can they expect other governments to listen to us? Last week in the House of Lords, a debate took place on the displacement of refugees and migrants from Asia and Africa. One of the most interesting things I took from the debate was the number of Peers who raised the plight of the Rohingya ‘boat’ people.
Earl Courtown who was responding on behalf of the government stated that the UK government are speaking with Burmese ministers regarding the situation in the country and are urging the ASEAN member states (Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand) not to turn away boats in distress. Yes, you read that correctly, the UK government are urging other states to not turn away people in distress. Yet here I am urging my government not to do the exact same thing.
I want my government to remember the numerous times the UK has displayed compassion and commitment to human life and dignity by providing refuge for those facing persecution. During the Second World War they helped the Kindertransport children, in the 1980s they took in refugees from Vietnam, and in the 1990s they helped those fleeing from war in Bosnia and Kosovo. Sadly, the lack of support they are currently offering refugees will definitely be a stain on their history.
What our government needs to understand is that financial aid alone is simply not enough. For Syria, the most vulnerable in society need more than aid - they need to be resettled. David Cameron has recently stated that they plan to modestly expand the number of resettlement places by a few hundred, unfortunately, a few hundred is still not enough and we should be looking to take our fair share. For the refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean, more support needs to be provided for search and rescue operations.
The current UK government needs to once again display the same compassion and commitment to human life as previous governments have done and provide these refugees with the same second chance I was lucky enough to have had.
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.