At a fringe meeting at Lib Dem conference we heard an excellent panel of speakers on the issues around Syrians coming to the UK Zrinka Bralo (Executive Director, Migrant Organise) startled us by holding up a fluorescent life jacket that she had picked up on a beach in Lesvos. It was made for a toddler. She then told us it was actually a fake. It would not have acted as a life jacket, but the parents who would have paid money for it did not know that. It was worse when she showed us a tiny life jacket, for a baby. Also fake. What sort of pressure would a family be under to put their children through such a risky journey ? Although Lesvos and the boat journeys have only recently been in the news, we heard that Lesvos had been receiving boats since 1998 – not as many, but they had been coming – and throughout that time had been making people welcome. Contrast that with what happens when those seeking asylum get as far as the UK where the asylum system is so adversarial and so difficult for people seeking sanctuary to get through. So what can we do about it ? Zrinka made the point that good people do good work – but it is the racists who shout loudest and have their voices heard. It is important that we all stand up for those who need us to, get our voices heard, and keep on doing so. She also asked us to push the Government to do more, and ask ourselves – “if this were 1939, would we be the one’s helping Kindertransport ?”. There were good questions from those attending, and relevant to what Zrinka said, we were reminded that what was needed was political vision, and much better ways of caring for and supporting people who made it here via the traumatic routes taken. Councils need to be better supported in taking in Syrians under the UNHCR route. There is only one way to stop the traffickers who are profiting so much from continuing to exploit, and that is by making Safe and Legal Routes for those fleeing the atrocities in Syria. It is important to push the Government hard on taking more Syrians under the UNHCR route, and we are asking every one of you reading this to ask your MP to sign this commitment to increase the number taken from 20,000 to 50,000 over 5 years to play our part in decreasing the numbers making perilous journeys.
(to be continued)