Southend Welcoming Refugees (3)

On the specific subjects of asylum seeking (see here), the Calais crisis (see here) and the Southend Welcoming Refugees initiative (see here and here), as well as earlier on the more general subject of immigration, I have already written about these matters at length and it leaves me wondering if I have said all that I need to say, for what is really needed now is an appropriate response whereby refugees and asylum (sanctuary) seekers are helped, in which matter and given the needs there is a long way still to go. There continues to be developments that merit consideration, and while I wish here to consider further the (Southend) response to the unfolding refugee crisis, I will first look at what is happening further afield.

During the week, I discussed with friends the German response to the refugee crisis. In some ways, this has served as a model for the rest of the EU, who have (to put it mildly) been dragging their feet. One of the repercussions is the enormous strains it has placed on the communities concerned, and this should be carefully looked at if the UK is to follow suit. Currently, the UK government has been reluctant to act (just as has its EU partners), which while not unsurprising is disappointing. The rather dismissive way the Prime Minister answered the recent LibDem leader’s question regarding possibilities for helping refugees arriving at the Greek Islands was more than disappointing. The UK government has set its store on working with the appropriate UN agencies, yet the way it has dealt with refugees, and the giving of aid aside, for they are supposedly prepared to pay for 10,000 needy displaced persons to come to the UK, reveals the devil is in the detail and we still await the detail.

On the further afield matter, I was listening last night (by chance) to a moving Radio 4 serialisation of a story, which in this case involved a young North Korean woman, fleeing oppression in the North for a new life in the South. Not only were the details of the escape harrowing and dramatic, with much heroism and sacrifice shown amidst wickedness and indifference, I was struck by the overwhelming desire of those fleeing not to go back, which in those cases could well result in them losing their lives. Then just prior to hearing this, I chanced on an article in the Sun with the title “Turn back boats – ex-Aussi PM calls for ‘force’ on Europe migration”. In it the former Australian prime minister, Tony Abbot, was arguing “that Europe was making a catastrophic error” by allowing in immigrants fleeing to Europe illegally for a better life, although he did recognize there was a moral obligation to receive people fleeing for their lives, which raised in my mind once again the question of how do we go about making that distinction? It struck me that politicians like Abbot do attract a good deal of popular support by their hard line approach (we are seeing it, for example, with Donald Trump in the US presidential campaign), and what is needed is a clearer understanding of the issues, with wisdom and compassion.

This brings me to a CAST meeting I attended two days back, which was a follow up to the first public “Southend Welcoming Refugees” meeting (discussed in my earlier blog). Lots of useful things came out and it was refreshing to see so many newcomers coming who had passion, and were desirous to see solutions to the refugee crisis, and get involved. My associations with CAST go back to its beginnings when the focus was on sanctuary seekers, who were mostly with no recourse to public funds and not allowed to work for remuneration, and providing hosts for some to be accommodated and support in other practical ways. It was a salutary reminder when we were told that there may be in the region of 300,000 such people in the country already, many of which are deemed to be here illegally. In the UK’s clampdown on illegal immigration, life is becoming and will become a lot harder for these people.

Lots of useful things came out of the meeting and I was touched by what some are doing already and intend to do with the right guidance. The Calais situation remains dire and many more have arrived at the Jungle camp since I wrote last. While a lot needs to be done given the hardships being experienced and the lack of interest by the French (and our own) authorities in helping toward a proportional, compassionate and coordinated response, a lot is being done including by some who were in the room. It was distressing to hear of the misinformation being banded and negative spin around, especially in schools, but it was good to learn of initiatives and strategies to win over hearts and minds or at least make the truth known. Time was spent discussing the practicalities we and the community at large might be able to own, e.g. providing accommodation, thus relieving hard pressed statutory agencies from some of its burden it rightly needs to gauge. But still there are a lot of unknowns, especially regarding central and local government responses, but at least the meeting was positive insofar we were able to consider the issues, form a position and develop a strategy.

Besides my knowledge of many of the issues and my networking acumen, which I can bring to bear, I feel one of my own contributions is to be a critical friend. For example, while it is tempting to regard the anti-brigade as a group of angry, negative people and it is tempting to just ignore them, I believe (because I know a number of them) there are many that think we (the British people) are not in a position to take in sanctuary seekers given the already many unmet needs in our country that also need addressing and other fears such as the islamification of the UK and the difficulty in distinguishing those who are economic migrants and those who aren’t, and many of these are decent, reasonable, compassionate folk, some of which help in my work among the homeless here in the UK. My point is we need to win them over too or ourselves be won over to a common position, in order to make the right response. I am also mindful that the people the UN are helping in their camps around Syria (some of which the UK government have said they will take in) yet, for reasons discussed in my last blog, some of the neediest sanctuary seekers are not in these Muslim dominated camps; they are Christian. Ironically this relates to a government agenda to promote British values (more likely among Christians than Muslims) and that many of those in the forefront of trying to help are themselves Christian, and yet without question, where people are destitute and dying, we ought, irrespective of religion, to be able to help!

I look forward to participating in a meeting next week (along with others) with representatives from our local Council. I reserve judgment concerning the Council response to the refugee crisis until after we have met and there has been full consideration of the issues, which I understand the Council have said they will do. I believe there is a golden opportunity for the Council to work with the wider community. I hope this will happen. As an old friend used to remind me – we are where we are and we must do what we can. I hope that indeed I can and I will encourage others to do likewise.


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