The voices of compassion are challenging the refugee narrative writes Rabina Khan
The end of the summer holidays has arrived. The children are going back to school. Nothing unusual, it happens every year, something us parents take for granted. As a new term starts our hopes and wishes go out to our children who we encourage to learn and grow up to make a better world.
Meanwhile other children are washed up, drowned on the beaches of the Mediterranean.
But the public discourse has changed. More voices are calling for a different answer one that provides more safe and legal channels for people to access protection. The shocked images of drowned children are driving public indignation across Europe. There are signs that the UK’s role is starting to come under the spotlight - the number of Syrian refugees being given asylum in Britain wouldn’t fill a tube train.
David Cameron leads a government that, despite denials, appears hostile to refugees. His answer to the Calais “crisis” was higher fences, razor wire and dogs. When, instead we should accept all the refugees from Calais – an estimated 4,000 people.
Public opinion is changing and its pressure has even had a limited impact upon David Cameron who has been forced to announce that 20,000 Syrian refugees will be offered asylum by 2020 – that works out to about 12 a day, a begrudging offer when compared to Germany who have taken 800,000 (10,000 in one day!)
The pressure of the Jeremy Corbyn campaign for the Labour Party leadership has also contributed to turning the tide of the refugee debate. Pro-refugee voices are now being heard – whether from churches, synagogues and mosques or from those others who believe we should be doing more – the UK should be prepared to take more refugees, many, many more.
There is a groundswell of support for community initiatives to provide practical support to refugees. Collections of food, clothes, toiletries and toys are being sent to the camps in Calais. The Prime Minister will not take a single refugee from Calais, preferring to pick and choose from those in camps in Syria’s neighbours but at least our politicians are no longer describing migrants as “swarms.”
I represent a multicultural community in Tower Hamlets, a borough with many problems and inequalities, a borough suffering under a government that persistently cuts the local authority’s budget, but a borough with a big heart.
I am proud to live in an East End that has provided a welcome to immigrant communities for generations, whether it has been Huguenots fleeing religious persecution in the eighteenth century, the Irish fleeing famine in the nineteenth century or Jews fleeing the Nazis in the twentieth century. The voices of compassion are challenging the refugee narrative; the East End is an example of settlement, assimilation and respect. If the government can be moved, and it must be, the East End will play its part in giving a welcome to refugees.
Rabina Khan is a Bangladeshi-born British writer, politician, councillor for Shadwell in Tower Hamlets Council, community worker and author of Ayesha’s Rainbow. She stood in the recent Mayoral election in Tower Hamlets on a left of Labour, anti-austerity platform.