I have the privilege of being a volunteer caseworker for a charity called REFEO (Refugee Education for Equal Employment Opportunities). I communicate with lots of people who have travelled from all over the world, have diverse experiences and backgrounds. In my opinion, some of the things that have remained constant throughout are people’s resilience, tenacity and more than anything, their hope. Hope for a better life, hope for safety, hope for stability and hope for survival.
On the opposite side of the spectrum there is so much animosity and apathy in this country (and others) against anything deemed as “Other”; people who come from a different country, a different background, speak a different language or look a little different. Misinformation is a continuous battle in discussions around refugees and asylum seekers. The fear mongering that some right wing, xenophobic, racist individuals, governments and organisations have capitalised on and created, has been detrimental to the societal view of refugees and asylum seekers. Basic empathy, humanity and facts are thrown out of the window in place of dangerous anger and panic. Instead of people asking why they are in that situation or how desperate they would have to be to put themselves and their families at risk, asylum seekers are demonised for using boats and dinghies to get to this country. People are also intentionally omitting that there are no safe or legal routes for them and that legally they have to be in this country to apply for asylum. People claim that the UK is taking more refugees and asylum seekers than any other country when in reality 86% of refugees live in their neighbouring countries. The myth that we are being overrun by refugees and asylum seekers is forced down our throats when the reality is that by the end of 2018 only around 0.26% of the UK’s total population were refugees and asylum seekers.
I found these figures with a very quick Google search and research to make sure these were reputable sources.
Displaced people travelling in a dinghy. Image by CAFOD Photo Library (Ben White CAFOD) Source: E-International Relations
This information is out there but are you going to look for it if you are being told that people are stealing your jobs? If you are being told people aren’t worth your empathy anyway? If you live in an echo chamber that contains very little diversity of thought, diversity of people and diversity of culture?
Misinformation and miseducation play a huge part in the way we see our past. History will always play a part in current society and we see history being repeated constantly, yet people are still having to fight for colonialism to be taught in schools. The British Empire took over, pillaged, stole and committed genocide in different countries across the world but people are discriminated against if they come here to try and create a better and safer life for themselves. The cruel legacy of the British Empire can still be seen in today's world from continuing white supremacy, to illegal occupation of countries, to racism.
It can also be seen in the way we frame conflicts, war and invasions. There is outrage when we discuss conflicts and attacks on the West, as there should be. Unfortunately, this outrage is not as present when we talk about Yemen or Somalia or Lebanon or Iraq or Afghanistan or Palestine or or or ( I could go on). The US and the UK have been arming Saudi Arabia, in the war against Yemen, resulting in one of the world's largest humanitarian crises. Yet Yemeni people are vilified for coming to the UK to try and survive when we have had a hand in their circumstances. This shows yet again the value that society and governments place on black and brown lives.
Local and international activists gather on Molyvos beach, Lesvos, Greece. by Neal McQueen Source: New Internationalist
It is brilliant to see that Ukrainian refugees are being supported and helped during this horrific time in their lives - but where is the support of the millions of other displaced people around the world? Instead, they are not only left to drown in the channel but actively attacked and discriminated against. This isn’t a broken system - this system is working as designed. There shouldn’t be selective moral outrage or selective empathy based on geographic location, skin colour or framing by some media and governments. We should want peace, freedom and safety for everyone. Truthful and honest education and information about our past is important in understanding these current situations and ensuring that we don’t repeat history.
Pro-migrant demonstrators outside Napier Barracks in Folkestone, Kent, gathered in a show of support to welcome migrants to the area. Photograph: Andrew Aitchison/In Pictures/Getty Images. Source: The Guardian.
I wrote about hope in the first paragraph and I see hope in the amazing organisations and individuals that are working to help vulnerable people all over the world. I see hope in people fighting to raise awareness about humanitarian emergencies around the world. I see hope in community responses to awful situations. I see hope in protests and petitions and empathetic discussions. And I see hope in passion for equality. I think that empathy and education are key in solving these issues and I can see so much of that in the world around us. Even in our own little ways we can help to try and share the truth about the realities people are facing and try to build a better world for the most vulnerable of us.
About the Author
Jyoti Chauhan is a British-Indian freelance writer from Coventry. She has a BA in English Literature and is a volunteer caseworker for REFEO (Refugee Education For Equal Employment Opportunities). She is passionate about equality, social justice, food, travel and sarcasm.