From a quick scan of newspaper headlines some days, it would be easy to believe that we can’t afford — economically or politically — to welcome refugees. These stories often dehumanise refugees, and seek to play on our fears rather than appeal to our hopes.
We believe in another story, a story where the inherent dignity and infinite worth of every human being is valued above all. In these times of political uncertainty at home and a seeming emphasis on our differences, remembering our shared humanity is as important as ever.
We want to challenge the negative rhetoric around refugees, to celebrate those who are offering and those who seek a welcome, and to build the political will for action to help more of those seeking sanctuary. We believe in the possibilities for strangers to become friends, to enrich our lives and enhance our stories.
There are many good reasons to change the story. Here are just five.
· Britain has a proud history of welcoming people seeking refuge
Although the scale of movement may feel unprecedented, the world has responded many times before to the mass movement of people. Whether it was finding homes for Jewish children saved by the Kindertransport, or welcoming Ugandan Asians in the 1970s, and Kosovar refugees in the late 1990s, the UK has been part of positive solutions for refugees many times before. These refugees have also benefited the UK.
· Most refugees are not in Europe, but in much poorer countries
Although the refugees arriving in Europe get the most media attention, poor countries such as Lebanon are hosting 86 per cent of the world’s refugees, while the five richest countries in the world — including the UK — host less than 5 per cent of all refugees.
· Refugees make up a very small proportion of the European population
When words such as ‘tidal wave’ or ‘swarm’ are used to describe movements of people, it not only dehumanises those in need, but also implies a movement of people on a scale that simply doesn’t reflect reality. In actual fact refugees make up a very small percentage of the population of Europe and migration of all kinds greatly enriches the social fabric of host societies; both culturally and economically. For example, it’s estimated that Ugandan Asians forced from home by Idi Amin in the 1970s have created 30,000 jobs in Leicester.
· Often the language used is wrong and unhelpful
In addition to the dehumanising language so often used to talk about people seeking refuge, a study by the Migration Observatory at Oxford University analysed tens of thousands of UK newspaper articles and found that ‘illegal’ was the most common descriptor for the word immigrants. We need to uphold the right of every person to seek refuge, to have their claims to asylum fairly assessed, to receive relief and to be treated with dignity. People are forced to make dangerous journeys, relying upon smugglers, because of the obstacles they face in accessing documentation that would enable them to travel through regular routes.
There is nothing illegal about seeking refuge from war or persecution.
· Communities are working hard to provide a welcome
We want to ensure this story is heard too. Whether it’s volunteers packing welcome boxes or churches working to find spare rooms for families, there are thousands of people proactively offering a welcome. We need the UK Government to do much more to follow their lead.