The recent conference on the pervasive refugee crisis, which was jointly organised by Initiatives of Change’s Sustainable Communities programme and ICEARAS*, provided an ideal platform for many to share harrowing yet inspiring stories from the front-line. All speakers featured were remarkable, with each contributing to the alleviation of the refugee disaster on either the individual or the broader institutional aspect. Some speakers such as the Rt Hon Lord Alfred Dubs, Sakira Suzia and Councillor Micheline Safi Ngongo were all former refugees to the United Kingdom. They are a testament to the humanitarian and economic development that inevitably transpires from the solidarity of man in the face of world-wide calamities. Other speakers such as Elizabeth Jones, member of UKIP’s National Executive Committee, provided a much-needed opposing perspective to the dominating opinion of lenient border controls for refugees.
Among the particularly distressing stories from the frontline was one voiced by Ms Suzia, a decorated Police Constable with the London Metropolitan police. Some of the most common occurrences she witnessed whilst volunteering in Lesbos was the lifelessness of the babies arriving via the precarious boats to the shores of Europe. The reasoning behind these disturbing scenes is equally alarming: Concerned parents are faced with a grave predicament, either medicate their babies unconscious to force their silence and thereby avoiding trafficker gunfire, or risk their babies’ lives by allowing them to travel unsedated. Leila Segal, a trained barrister and founder of the Voice of Freedom also provided a glimpse into rarely reported incidents of women trafficking. A particularly heart-wrenching story was one of a young Ethiopian woman named Desta Getaneh who at the innocent of age of 10 left home in search for a quality of life we (residents of developed countries) at times fail to appreciate. En route, she befriended a man who promised to aid her journey but instead sold her to a trafficker where the conspicuous exchange of money occurred right before her eyes. This anecdote perfectly underlines the influence the trafficking industry has on an indigent region. Traffickers are running rampant in countries with no enforceable regulation or security, it is therefore our duty as citizens of the world to propel these countries towards the road to liberation from this scourge.
The event which gathered a crowd of over 70 people also provided a full opportunity for views from various political persuasions to be heard, most notably, Lord Alfred Dubs. The Rt Hon gave a particularly impassioned speech outlining the monumental amendment to the government’s immigration bill, which was rightly met with veneration from the attendees. The amendment compels the government to provide sanctuary for an undefined number of unaccompanied children through designation to local authorities. In a separate part of the speech he noted that although some momentum was lost due to hardening attitudes towards immigration, he recognised the ultimately compassionate nature of the British public , remarking that:
“without the enormous public support, this bill would have never passed”
Lord Dubs, once UK Refugee Council Director, slammed claims that accepting vulnerable children would create a pull-factor for countless other migrants, stating that there is little in the way of evidence supporting this theory. Many impressionable children residing in the camps, of which there are now 80,000 per Lord Dubs, would be led to a life of either crime or prostitution without systematic aid. Consequently, we should be unwavering in our belief that this amendment is right, just and undeniably moral.
The event also included constructive dialogue on the past and present state of political affairs. Elizabeth Jones, whom is an eloquent orator quite clearly revels in controversy as she managed to cause furore amongst the crowd whilst touting the advantages of trade diplomacy over military interventionism as a tool for conflict resolution. This was somewhat peculiar, as interventionism is incontestably the root cause of the predominantly Iraqi-Afghani-Syrian refugee crisis. On a similar note, Elizabeth also appropriately identified the ineffectual nature of foreign aid particularly to Syria, of which $1.12bn flowed to. Instead she cited Singapore’s independent success story that saw it rise from a predominantly agrarian economy to a financial powerhouse as a loose model to which Syrian development could be based upon. However, these intriguing points were unfortunately overlooked when she rather less forgivingly failed to distinguish between a refugee and an economic migrant and was met by cries of vehement objection from the attendees.
Finally, the emotional outrage witnessed at the event which was incited by the mere presence of differing opinions certainly depicts the highly-polarised environment on the ground and the over-politicisation of the crisis. At times, politicians, government officials, immigration officers and indeed members of the public from both sides of the political spectrum need to be reminded that this is a humanitarian crisis, rather than a political one. Stripped to its bare essence a refugee is neither truly evil nor truly benevolent but rather a human in need. With this in mind politicians should forego career opportunism and instead work for what is moral. As for refugees themselves, they should take note from the past and realise that being a refugee is a not a badge of indignity and humiliation rather a badge of courage, bravery and resourcefulness of man, they should certainly wear it with pride.
*International Centre for Eritrean Refugees and Asylum Seekers.
Majed Twijiri 7/11/2016