While German leader Angela Merkel has stepped up to provide leadership in the face of the refugee crisis, David Cameron and the UK government are flailing. This response is unforgivable, considering the role British foreign policy has played in the catastrophe. Worse, the solution is right under our nose.
Between 1938 and 1940, the UK took in more than 10,000 predominantly Jewish children to rescue them from a horrifying fate at the hands of the Nazis and their allies. This project was called the Kindertransport. This was not about providing a quota of visas after families had made death-defying trips on overcrowded boats to arrive (dead or alive) on our shores. Britain and her allies ran trains and planes to pick up these refugees and bring them here safely.
On top of this, the UK welcomed more than 70,000 additional Jewish refugees before the beginning of World War II. Britain opened its hotesl, hostels and stately homes to accommodate a desperate people.
This is how the Daily Mail responded at the time.
If 1930’s Britain could ignore its racist press and get on the right side of history, modern Britain should be capable of even better.
There are currently 4 million registered Syrian refugees, and 4.1 million homeless people across Europe. That’s just over 8 million people made destitute by physical or economic violence.
At the same time, 11 million homes are standing empty.
This is not an issue of capacity. We could house every Syrian refugee, and every homeless European overnight, without building a single additional home. Also, by tackling both problems, we would respond not only to the refugee crisis but ‘fix our own problems’ at the same time.
What this comes down to is intent. Do we intend to step over ragged shadows of humanity in our streets, and let dead children wash up on beaches – or do we intend to honour our common humanity. Are we the Good Samaritan, or the apathetic bystander.
Until we have opened the door of every hotel, hostel, stately home and available bedroom in this country, no one grounds to argue we can’t help our fellow human beings, only that they don’t want to.
Furthermore, this is a crisis we knew was coming. A crisis that will become the norm as we reap the whirlwind of military and economic violence across the world, combined with the impacts of climate change.
As Ellie Mae O’Hagan wrote in the Guardian recently:
There are lots of estimates as to what we can expect to see in the near future, but the best known (and controversial) figure comes from Professor Norman Myers, who argues that climate change could cause 200 million people to be displaced by 2050.
We may very well be a small island, but so is Iceland. How did the Icelandic people respond to their government’s paltry offer to accept just 50 refugees? 11,000 signed up to offer asylum in their own homes to help.
How did Germany respond to the crisis?
- Germany defied the Dublin Regulations (restrictions on immigrants) to welcome in 800,000 Syrian refugees this year – a massive contribution to absorbing the refugee population and reducing pressure on entry points across the EU.
- German citizens have been so busy donating to support the refugees that police actually had to ask them to stop, as they had more resources than they yet knew what to do with.
- When coach-loads of Syrian refugees arrived in the tiny German town of Oer Erkenschwick this week, hundreds of townspeople bearing flowers and welcome banners lined the streets to welcome their guests.
Thanks to an intransigent UK government and a largely hostile press, the British response to the crisis has been left to small start-up campaigns.
- British group of 7 concerned citizens have raised £50,000 ($76,500) in just a few weeks to help put together aid packages for refugees in Kent.
- Another British group set up a Kickstarter for the same purpose which has raised £41,000 ($63,000).
While these small numbers of people help, a recent YouGov poll a staggering 67% of the British public back sending the troops to Calais to stop migrants entering the U.K.
Bottom line – the number of refugees accepted by the UK could fit in a single tube train. It’s a shameful effort.
The petition to pressure the UK government to accept more refugees is now going viral, with over 135,000 signatures and counting at time of writing. This should secure a parliamentary debate on the matter, but we can’t wait for parliament to get involved.
When a human crisis erupted in Europe in 1938, we were on the right side of history. Well, it’s 2015 and human crisis has arrived once more. We have the capacity to get on the right side of history again. It’s time to show the will.
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