by LCID Vice-President Alison McGovern MP
Sometimes people find themselves doing things that would have seemed impossible only a short time before.
A mother, clambering onto a rickety boat in the pitch black, clutching a child. A father giving the last of his family’s possessions for a single train ticket. What must a person have to go through before the impossible becomes the inevitable?
It is a question for us as well, and for our Government.
When I asked the Prime Minister in June about vulnerable Syrian refugees, David Cameron said he was convinced that we as a nation had fulfilled our moral obligations.
As late as July the talk was of more dogs and higher fences. Just a few days ago we woke up to dead children on a Turkish beaches and Ministers were still mouthing platitudes about ‘working with partners’.
Now it seems that the awful scenes across Europe and the Mediterranean have brought a change of heart from our Prime Minister with his announcement that the UK will take an extra 20,000 refugees over the next five years.
This is a start but it does not go far enough. People need our help now, not in five years time.
Other countries across Europe are rising to the challenge and welcoming refugees. The German state of Baden-Wuttemberg has even come to a special arrangement to take thousands of Kurdish refugees directly from their homeland, bypassing the normal asylum process. This localised approach is one we should look at here too if our Government does not go far enough. I know there are towns and cities across the country that would step forward to play their part if given the chance.
The inaction of our Government in the face of this tragedy shamed our whole nation. As Yvette Cooper argued so strongly last week, this is simply not the British way. Despite the repeated assertions, it is clear that we are far from taking our ‘fair share’ of refugees.
Our fair share. Nothing about this situation is fair if you are a child caught up in conflict. There is nothing fair about losing all chance of an education or living a normal life. There is nothing fair about running for your life, only to find the door to sanctuary closed in front of you.
We must help.
The Government needs to get a grip. Hand-wringing and excuses will simply not cut it any longer, there needs to be a tangible plan put in place to start taking in the refugees as soon as possible. The Prime Minister should also commit to excluding refugees from his migration targets as a step towards breaking the insidious coupling of humanitarian aid and immigration in the public consciousness.
This has gone far beyond any concerns about immigration caps or quotas. It is a moral obligation, not a political calculation.
In 1623, one of our greatest British poets, John Donne, wrote that “No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the Main” but he might as well have written that for us right now.
It’s time to act. Cities and towns across Britain are ready to make refugees welcome. The Prime Minister should no longer stand in their way.