In the past couple of years the issues facing refugees and the public debate about the refugee crisis has taken a turn for the worse. There are so many soap boxes propping up a multitude of views that it’s hard to separate fact from fiction. But facts remain facts.
In a post-Trump world it’s imperative that we’re brave enough to stand by them.
So, here’s a quick guide to understanding the refugee crisis and dealing with those fanatical social media trolls.
What’s the difference between refugees, migrants, expats and immigrants?
People have always moved from country to country, and for a whole range of reasons, for work, for love, for education or for interest, or in search of a better life. The great British media tends to choose which of the words ‘migrant’, ‘expat’ or ‘immigrant’ to use based on which countries people are moving from.
Refugees are different though, in that they are fleeing their homeland because staying where they are runs the risk of injury, illness or even death. Whether it’s a man-made or natural disaster, political or social persecution or all-out war - a refugee simply has no choice in the matter. They are running for their lives.
‘They don't speak our language’
Picture this. You’ve survived the initial bombardment of your home as your country descends into war. You seek refuge over an international border to escape the violence only to be told you can’t get away because you haven’t taken the time to learn a new language.
More than half of the world’s refugees come from countries formerly colonised by Britain (60% come from one of Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan). That means that many refugees – especially those seeking to live in Britain – speak at least some English.
Part of the government’s ‘Community Sponsorship’ scheme supports people to help refugees find places to improve their English.
If someone’s comment smacks of racism it can be a bit of a challenge to reply in a calm and useful way. But reply we must because leaving that sort of opinion unchecked will only lead to a nasty vicious circle of further misinformation and hate. So we’re going to have to try to be the bigger people and engage in a positive way with these views. Generally speaking, any comment that takes the actions of an individual and applies it to an entire ethnic group is racist, plain and simple. Perhaps ask them to think about their own social circle - would they like it if the actions of any one of their friends was applied unthinkingly to the whole group?
‘They are terrorists’
This is a narrative which has been exacerbated by our national media but it’s a narrative we must challenge because it’s simply not true. We must not blame refugees for terrorism and war. In fact it’s most often terrorism and war which refugees are fleeing from.
British foreign policy over the past two decades, especially the bombing of Iraq, has played a part in the growth of some of the terrorist groups from whom some of the refugees now in Europe are escaping from.
'There's not enough room'
We think that the UK government can and should at least double the number of refugees hosted in the UK. The UK has so far pledged to host only 20,000 Syrians through the resettlement programme. To welcome 50,000 refugees to the UK would involve each parliamentary constituency hosting just four families per year in the four years to 2020. In contrast Turkey currently hosts almost 2 million Syrian refugees and Lebanon is host to more than 1.1 million. To put that in perspective - Lebanon has a population density of nearly 580 people per square kilometre even before the refugee crisis. Compare that to the UK - our population is currently just 270 people per square kilometre. Space is really not an issue for us.
The UK has a moral and legal obligation to help people in need, and we’re not doing enough.
Why is it just the men who make the journey?
It isn’t. Christian Aid workers in Serbia, Greece, Calais and Lebanon have met many women who have also fled. It’s a misconception that it’s mainly men.
Some men do opt to make the journey alone seeking refuge. Criticism has been levied at these men who are seen to be neglecting their families but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In these cases it is safer for one family member to go on ahead. There’s European legislation which enables families to be reunited in the event that a family member successfully enters the UK. So it makes perfect sense to send an individual ahead in order to bring the whole family together when/if they succeed. In their position you wouldn’t think of sending your children (although many young people are forced to make these journeys alone) and it’s a sad fact that the road could hold even more hazards for a woman travelling alone.
So, there we are. A quick fire guide to some issues you might face online (or in real life) when ‘the refugee question’ raises it’s head.
Be brave, be bold.