Refugees welcome

An opinion piece written by Scott Campbell, Cumbernauld Media's Senior Reporter.

Published at 19:05 on 11 September 2015


Distressed persons are transferred to a Maltese patrol vessel, in the Med. Sea. 

LAST Thursday (3rd September) was, by all accounts, a busy day for me. 

Going from meeting to meeting, interview to interview, I was posted on assignment to cover the burst water main in Abronhill which had knocked out supplies to thousands of residents throughout Cumbernauld. 

Most of Cumbernauld will likely remember that day, at least in part, as the day that the water went off yet again. However, for the rest of Britain and for the UK media, it was the day they rediscovered their souls.

Thursday, September 3rd, was after-all the day when pictures of a young bairn’s body being washed ashore in Turkey were spread across the front pages of newspapers throughout Britain. 

It should not have had to come to it, but those images kicked our backsides to show some much long-lacking humanity of what is neither a migrant crisis nor a refugee crisis, but rather a human tragedy.

The shocking images of the drowned toddler, whose body was washed up on a beach in the Turkish coastal town of Bodrum, last Wednesday (2nd September) shocked us back in the UK. Suddenly, it became a problem, in a way it hasn’t been for the past few months. 

Even the Daily Mail’s tune changed, and dancing on the head of a pin the paper’s headlines went from “As numbers break all records... MIGRANTS: HOW MANY MORE CAN WE TAKE?” on August 28th, to “Tiny victim of a human catastrophe,” last Thursday.

It smacks of desperate hypocrisy, and that’s what we have to admit: “We are hypocritical”. 

Say it out loud and admit to yourself that before the pictures of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi flashed across the television, and were spread across the papers, the ‘migrant crisis’ as the media continues to dub it seemed so far away.

Such hypocrisy has given rise to naivety, and in the absence of intellectual capability to research, a void has opened up, becoming occupied overtime by the belief that Britain simply can’t take many of these desperate human beings. 

That Daily Mail argument is simply misguided, however. 

Statistics from the United Nations say that the United Kingdom has a surface area of 242,495 km2, with 64,596,800 people calling this damp island home, ONS estimates suggest. 

These figures are nothing special, and in the eyes of the people who swell the ranks of the ‘we have no space in the UK’ mob, they ‘prove’ their case: the UK is full. Sadly, however, those who stop here suffer from the illness ‘Stupiditis’.

Britain has provided a safe haven for those in danger before, and can do so before.

There was the Jewish immigration spike in the early 18th century; there was the welcoming of people seeking safety from European political unrest, such as the French Revolution between 1789 and 1799.

There was the migration exodus from Eastern Europe to Britain in the 19th century, followed the protection of Jewish people from the continent during the Second World War.

Then came the post-WW2 immigration boom, culminating in the British Nationality Act of 1948, which conferred the status of British citizenship on all Commonwealth subjects, recognising their right to work and settle in the UK, in a bid to rebuild the war-torn British economy. 

Britain has shown its humanity before, and we should do so again, because we do have room.

It’s time to ask that all important question: how much of the British Isles do you reckon is actually urban or even built on? 30 per cent? Half? Try less than 10%. In fact, try less than 7%, in both categories. 

Research from the both the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and the UK National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA) concludes that Britain is still the “green and pleasant land” that inspired William Blake’s famous ‘Milton’ poem, over two centuries ago.

A ‘land cover map’ produced by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, in 2011, showed that a mere six per cent of the country’s landscape is ‘urban’.

According to the CEH’s map, arable and horticulture made up 25 per cent of the British landscape, in 2011, the same percentage as grassland for pasture, silage or recreation.

Sixteen per cent of Britain was found to be mountains, heaths and bogs, while 13% of the British landscape was found to be semi-natural grasslands, 6% coniferous woodland, the same percentage as how much of Britain is broadleaf woodland, and urban areas.

Mapping work completed by the UK National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA) following the CEH’s research found that most of Britain (41.3%) consisted of enclosed farmland.

18.6% of Britain was found to be mountains, moorlands and heaths, while semi-natural grasslands made up 16.4% of the country’s land mass, compared with 11.6% woodlands, 1.3 per cent freshwaters, open-waters, wetlands, and floodplains, and 1.4% coastal margins.

The NEA found that a mere 6.8% of British landscape was in fact ‘urban’, though the Assessment explained that ‘built upon’ is different from ‘urban’, suggesting that in fact a meagre 1% of Britain’s landmass was in fact built upon.

In short, we have the space to help the people fleeing war, and crossing the continent to seek safety. 

If you don’t believe that, then perhaps have a look at the pictures we’ve seen on the television today, of the refugee camp in Röszke on Hungary’s border with Serbia.

In the footage, which is said to have been posted to the YouTube channel of Austrian politician Alexander Spritzendorfer, human beings are shown living in cramped pens, herded like cattle as the police throw what appears to be sandwiches in bags into the crowd.

When the footage first crossed my television screen I was horrified. It reminded me of being at a petting zoo. I had to try very hard to remind myself that these are human beings and not chickens being thrown feed. 

Watching it again on the evening news I’ve found that the video takes me back to my days in high school history lessons, where I learned of the dehumanising propaganda propagated by the Nazis against the Jewish race to justify their conflict and instil a strong sense of nationalism. 

The Americans were guilty of the same tactics, at the same time of course, though their propaganda was aimed at dehumanising the Japanese. Despite the different enemies, the aims of both the American and Nazi propaganda were essentially the same: ‘we can kill them; they are our enemies, they aren’t human’. 

Cast your mind back further, and consider Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘The White Man’s Burden’, which ripped black people’s humanity away from them, in a bid to make them seem inferior and justify the slave trade. 

What I’m saying is of course slightly exaggerated. The ongoing human crisis is not quite on a par with the events of the slave trade or Second World War, but my point is that we risk the dehumanisation of these desperate people happening. 

With the winds of the media changing daily between sympathy and a politer version of the phrase ‘leave them to die’, we run the risk of wrapping ourselves in a cocoon, thinking we are safe and therefore the world is at peace. Ignore, as they say, is bliss.

Step outside of your doorstep and you’ll see people going about their business, happy and content. Step over the threshold of a house in Damascus though and you will find a country at war, where the sounds of bomb blasts and bullets replace the sounds of neighbourly conversation and bustling traffic. 

Those asking why the people crossing Europe are doing what they are doing need only place themselves in the shoes of the people they say can ‘go home’. Travel to Syria, live in a country in the midst of civil war, with little supplies, and ruined public services. Suddenly, you’ll understand why. 

The fact is that these people need safety. They need action, not words. They are humans, not migrants. Refugees are welcome.

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