Jane Dodds, Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats
Over the summer we’ve seen our TV scenes and social media feeds flooded with images of refugees and asylum seekers desperately trying to come to the UK – often at great risk to their own lives.
With Nigel Farage decrying an “invasion” of our shores and Sarah Atherton, Conservative MP for Wrexham, calling for the Royal Navy to stop “huge scale” crossings, you could easily be led to believe we were seeing hundreds of thousands of people coming to the UK every day.
But the numbers of people seeking asylum are not increasing; despite the rhetoric which wants us to believe we are being invaded.
By allowing this dangerous narrative, which tells us we are under attack, we are directly putting lives at risk.
This is far from hyperbole – earlier in the summer Abdulfatah Hamdallah, a refugee from Sudan, tragically lost his life trying to cross the channel in an unsafe makeshift vessel.
Sudan has been beset by conflict and instability for almost a decade, with two bloody civil wars leaving 1.5 million people dead and at least 2 million displaced.
This is what Abdulfatah was fleeing from – war and persecution. He wasn’t coming to the UK to “scrounge” off our benefits system, or to “take our jobs”. He was simply trying to reach a place that was safe and would offer him refuge.
More recently the UK Government has begun to house refugees in an ex-army base at Penally MOD in Carmarthenshire. The UK Government so often pictured as uncaring and heartless has indeed providing accommodation to these people while their claims are processed, but the repurposed former army base is unsuitable for anyone for more than a few days, especially someone fleeing a war zone.
And more recently we’ve discovered that the UK Government didn’t even inform the area’s local MP, who happens to also be a Conservative government minister or the local council. This shows just how rushed and chaotic this whole process has been and the lack of care and thought that operates across the UK Government at present.
The Home Office urgently need to address this situation, especially before a long cold winter.
The reaction to the events in Penally has been mixed; on the one hand locals have staged a gathering welcoming the asylum seekers but stating the military site is inappropriate. On the other some locals have been joined by what Mark Drakeford has called “hard-right extremist” protestors who have travelled from across the UK to exploit the cause and are being egged on by former Monday Club member turned UKIP MS Neil Hamilton who is stirring the pot further regarding the arrival of 250 male asylum seekers.
So the question we should be asking ourselves is, how did we end up in this situation?
Five years ago I travelled to Calais to donate tents, tarpaulin sleeping bags collected from across concerned people in Powys and saw first hand the living conditions these people were in and heard about the horrors they were escaping from. Just like Abdulfatah they weren’t coming to the UK to “scrounge” or to “take our jobs” they were doing what anyone of us would do if we found ourselves I n that situation – striving to make life better and safer for them and their loved ones.
I am a child protection social worker by profession. I have spent years supporting vulnerable people all around the world, particularly children seeking refuge and do you know what? I have never met a single family who does not have a heart breaking story for why they’re making the journey.
We hear a lot of talk about how “we’re full”, that we should “look after our own” and “have enough problems already to deal with”. Since when did we become so heartless and cruel?
These are people’s lives we are talking about, people who have nothing and are risking their lives to travel to a place where they feel is safe.
So why do people not make the journey legally I hear you ask? Because the Conservative Government has made it so incredibly difficult to do so.
They’ve massively tightened the rules around refugees and asylum seekers, pandering to the notion that people seeking refugee and asylum are just ‘economic migrants’.
This dangerous rhetoric and posturing totally ignores the gravity of the situation, whilst also downplaying our responsibility to help those in need. Sending the Royal Navy to the channel may make Priti Patel feel good, but it will not address the humanitarian crisis that is growing day by day.
If you need any proof of the value that asylum seekers can bring to us, listen to this interview with Dr Tirej Brimo, a refugee from Syria who now works as a doctor for the NHS
We don’t have to choose whether we look after people already in the UK or to offer refugees and asylum seekers the right to stay in the UK. We can do both, we just need the political willpower to challenge this false narrative and stand up for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers.
The UK has a long and proud history of supporting refugees from around the world, yet sadly that has been forgotten. We must fulfil our moral duty and embrace those who are seeking safety and sanctuary in the UK, particularly children and their families.
If you’ve been moved by this piece I would encourage you to consider donating to The Refugee Council or if you live locally to Panally to consider donating any spare winter coats you may have via the Stand up to Racism West Wales Facebook page.