With millions of Syrians on the move, not to mention people fleeing Afghanistan, Eritrea and other unsafe countries, many regions in the world are in the midst of refugee crises. We asked what Europe’s role and the UK’s role should be.
Inspired by Jeremy Rodell’s presentation on the refugee crisis to South West London humanists, SELHuG examined the facts and then explored the issues at its October meeting.
You can see SELHuG’s remix of Jeremy’s presentation here
We had a broad discussion which ranged from the macro – the impact of Britain’s foreign policy from empire to Iraq and beyond – to the micro – how does a refugee feel on the streets of London and how do we as individuals feel? What can we do personally to help?
One outcome was an agreement to write to our southeast London MPs urging a different policy on refugees. The letter is below:
I am writing on behalf of the South East London Humanist Group (SELHuG) to ask you to put all the pressure you can on the government to change its response to the refugee crisis. We are talking primarily of people fleeing Syria but also those from Eritrea, Afghanistan and other unsafe countries.
We call on the government to:
1. Increase substantially the number of refugees the UK takes. According to Home Office figures we have accepted 216 Syrian refugees under the Vulnerable Persons Relocation scheme since January 2014. The offer to take 20,000 over 5 years is dismal. The number of people of all nationalities given asylum (21,000 last year) is a very small proportion of immigrants (over 600,000 last year), most of whom come to work or study.
2. Be part of the EU-wide effort to help refugees in Europe. So far the UK has opted out of the quota system to take refugees from Greece and Italy. Let’s take our share.
3. Increase its contribution to the global effort to help refugees stay in or near their own counties wherever humanely possible, through international agreement and humanitarian aid.
4. Change the national conversation from one which divides humanity into ‘us’ (UK citizens) and ‘them’ – refugees/migrants/swarms, people intent on taking our resources from us – to one where we are all humans first; where we in the UK are so lucky to live in a comparatively peaceful and prosperous country and we can help others less fortunate; together we can organise and use our local government and community infrastructure to provide friendship and services.
5. Develop support for refugees in cities as well as camps: act on the analysis presented by the International Rescue Committee and others that the majority of refugees, including Syrians, are finding their way to cities and urban areas. There are currently more Syrian refugees in Istanbul than in all the rest of Europe. Therefore a) humanitarian aid needs to be provided where refugees are, as well as in setting up and maintaining camps, and b) policy needs to be developed to support local governments and services to provide for refugees. They already know how to do it, so how can we scale up and do it even better?
This call is one of the outcomes of a SELHuG meeting last month when we discussed the crisis, based on a detailed look at the figures in a presentation which you can see here. We tried to look at it from an ethical position, asking what our responsibilities are in the light of the human suffering involved, the immediate practical need of refugees fleeing Syria and other unsafe countries, our relative peace and prosperity, the UK’s international activity from empire to Iraq to now, the need to find long-term solutions through international diplomacy, and the need to also support British people who are poor/unemployed/ill/excluded.