Let me start this post with a confession. Until this summer, I had become desensitized to the refugee crisis and knew very little about it.
I’ve grown up with shocking Oxfam and UNICEF ads on TV of babies with swollen bellies; sad, dirty faces staring back at me longingly. I’m ashamed to say they’re like water off a duck’s back now I’ve seen so many so often. Save the Children’s brilliant one second a day style It Could Have Been Me campaign last year struck a chord and pulled at the heart strings, but was quickly forgotten amidst the drama of daily life. How many of the thousands of Brits who uploading a photo to Instagram actually donated, I wonder?
That being said, I’m a huge believer in giving to charity. I’m of the opinion that for those of us privileged enough to consider ‘struggling at the end of the month’ central heating and running water, food in the fridge and 50MG wifi surging round our house, I am of the opinion, we could find a few quid to help those who are genuinely struggling.
But it wasn’t until Brexit unfolded earlier this year that I began to take real notice of the conversation about refugees, asylum seekers and migrants (and yes, it turns out they’re all very different types of people in the eyes of the law as this article from the Red Cross explains). My mom then volunteered for a weekend in the Calais camp, and hearing her recount her experience, stories of the people she’d met and not only what they’d been through but the circumstances they were living in now as well, I felt I could sit on the sidelines no longer.
In December 2015, across the world, it was estimated that 65.3 million people had been forced to flee their homeland as part of the current Refugee Crisis. That number increased by 5.8 million in just one year.
Let’s put this into perspective.
The UK’s current population estimate is 65.1 million.
Let that soak in for a moment: there are more people in the world displaced by war than UK citizens.
That also means there are more displaced people than the population of Canada, Australia and New Zealand combined.
40.8 million of these displaced people are still residing within their own countries. Only 24.5 are classed as refugees or seeking asylum. Don’t get me wrong, that’s still a huge number (roughly twice as many people as all of Britain’s major cities combined). But (in an ideal world) if nations not directly involved in the conflict the world over were to equally share that 24.5, it wouldn’t feel like so many all. And then we could start to figure out what to do with the remaining 40 million…
Breaking Point. But for who?
Last year, the Prime Minster (David Cameron) pledged to re-home 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020, saying it was our “moral responsibility” to do so. He then made a further pledge earlier this year to resettle 3,000 child refugees from the Calais and Dunkirk camps. Reports suggest Britain is already looking likely to fail on this promise as only 2,000 Syrian families were admitted asylum in the first quarter of 2016. This is not helped by the fact May has apparently dissolved the recently created role of ‘Minister for Syrian Refugees’.
And to add insult to injury, The Guardian reported last week that local authorities are struggling to find homes and school places for the asylum seekers, making it difficult to achieve the 2020 targets.
Yet, overall, we have accepted and housed just 0.18% of those 65 million people to date. We haven’t even managed a full 1%.
How tragic is that?
We, one of the spearhead nations of Western society, the land of hope and glory, haven’t even managed to help as many people as live in Newcastle, Wigan or even Derby.
Britain, to date, has granted asylum to just 117,00 people. That is the population of the borough of Lambeth in South London or East Hampshire (which is all villages, FYI, I checked).
Winchester has more people than that. And Sherwood (an area of Nottingham, not even a whole town). And Sedgemoor. Where’s Sedgemoor? Exactly people. Exactly.
Not my problem.
Many Brits, particularly from the older generations, are struggling to understand the plight of refugees: they didn’t flee during WWII. They stayed and fought for our country, our home. They didn’t let Hitler win. So these displaced people who choose to run, it’s their problem.
But what about France? And Italy? And Eastern Europe?
We have no idea how lucky we are in Britain, how privileged we’ve been to be in a position of strength and economic power. We can afford to fight, but more than that, we’ve never been at the hand of an oppressive regime. We haven’t been ruled through fear and brutality in any living generation’s memory. We haven’t been occupied since the Medieval age.
Despite the eerie similarities between the mass Jewish migration pre and post WWII from and today’s migration crisis, (read the full story on the Washington Post here) these wars aren’t like WWII with trenches and tanks and bombers, with soldiers integrating into society in occupied nations.
There is no rationing because there is no food at all. These people can’t fight back because they are unarmed civilians and the regime they are fighting will literally shoot them dead in a heartbeat if they so much as whisper about rising up. They will rape young girls and boys, they will leave you for dead.
Pretend for a moment that it was Britain savaged by war beyond recognition.
If you lived here, wouldn’t you be desperate? Wouldn’t you do whatever it took, go wherever would take you to give your family a better life? To give yourself a better life?
How do you choose who gets to start again, safe in a foreign country, and educate their children and live. Or who is left to starve and freeze in a camp in no-man’s land, unwanted and left for dead?
How would you feel if a country only helped those residing in Chichester? Or Chorley? Or Darlington, with a few extras thrown in from surrounding villages to make up the numbers?
Because that’s the number of people we’ve helped so far. Physically, we are a small country, yes, but politically and financially, regardless of what many may believe we are mighty. There must be something more we can do?
These are not just refugees or asylum seekers. These are people who had lives and education and families and a future before they were forced to leave their homeland due to a war they didn’t support or take part in, just as we would be if it was us.
I don’t make these comparisons to scare readers or to suggest we should surrender our own homeland to all of them. I merely want to put the crisis into perspective, into numbers that make sense to us in the UK.
There’s no place like home…
Based on the latest UNHCR‘s Global Trends report, published June 2016.
Contrary to what many Brits seem to believe, asylum seekers don’t want to be here. They don’t want to be in Germany. Or Sweden or Hungry or wherever else they may have been granted asylum. And they certainly don’t want to be in a refugee camp in Greece or France or Turkey. They want to go home. But they can’t. Home now only exists between bombings, shootings, rapes, and worse.
Would you want to live like that? If it was you in their shoes, would you stay? Or would you flee and beg any country that would have you to let you start a new life there and raise your family where it’s safe?
Asylum claims in Europe in 2015, courtesy of the BBC.
The Middle East and Northern Africa look after 39% of all displaced people. Turkey is currently taking 200 refugees per day.
When you look at things in perspective, Britain doesn’t seem so overwhelmed now, does it?
A few more key stats to consider;
- Over 50% of those displaced people are from Somalia, Afghanastan and Syria alone.
- Turkey, Pakistan and Lebanon together host over 5 million displaced people.
- Over 50% of those displaced are under 18. They are children.
- In 2015, 24 people per minute were forced to flee their homeland. That’s 34,000 per day. That number has increased four times since 2005.
- 11,000 children died in the first three years of Syrian conflict alone. Two years on, the war is still on going. How many more have we lost?
- Currently, there are 10,000 displaced children missing within the EU.
- Between January and April 2016, 28,000 people made the harrowing journey across the Mediterranean from Northern Africa to Italy. 4,474 of them were unaccompanied children.
So what can we do?
I am extremely proud to write that the blogging community is pulling together in aid of the Refugee Crisis.
Last month, I kicked off the UK contingent of the Bloggers for Refugees campaign (which started in Germany a few years ago). We are working with CalAid to change perceptions of displaced people within the UK and to raise much needed donations for the people living in the camps.
Over the next few weeks, fellow bloggers up and down the UK will be sharing posts like this of their own, trying to present readers with the facts, and to start to un-desensitise the UK population from the Refugee Crisis.
We’ll also be sharing posts giving our readers all sorts of ways to get involved, from donating old baby clothes stored in the loft, ‘just in case’, to buying a storybook to help explain what’s going on to your children (all proceeds of course go to helping the crisis) or even just donating cold, hard, essential cash – whether you can spare £1 or £100.
Our aim is not to get you using a hashtag or uploading photos to Instagram. It’s to affect real change, to encourage and drive donations, which are at an all time low when the number of displaced people round the world is at an all time high.
In the meantime, here’s some helpful links to get you started:
Find your local donation point in the UK via this helpful Google map.
Donate today! Help CalAid purchase much needed supplies and resources from food to school books and caravans for families to live in.
Join Bloggers for Refugees. If you’re a blogger and would like to get involved, join our Facebook group today to keep up to date with our efforts, get up to date stats and information to use in your posts and event information.
Helpful articles for further reading:
Migration in Europe explained in four maps.
UNICEF’s report into sexual exploitation, trafficking and abuse against children in the Calais and Dunkirk camps.
The UN Refugee Agency’s latest report on Global Trends, publishes June 2016.