On Monday, Suella Braverman claimed that people are “pretending [the people who arrive in the UK in small boats] are all refugees in distress”, stating that “some are members of criminal gangs”. Apparently, we are experiencing an “invasion”. This demonisation of asylum seekers is really worrying. It helps the Government introduce policies such as the Rwanda policy, and it encourages discrimination towards and mistreatment of asylum seekers and refugees in the UK.
Having met hundreds of people who have come to the UK by boat over the last couple of years, and gotten to know some closely, I wanted to share a few stories of people I have met.
Every one of the people arriving by boat is a person with their own story and understanding that is so important. But while everyone I have met is an individual, reflecting now three things stand out for me:
In the last 2 weeks alone, two people have shown me the scars they have from being tortured, one man told me he struggles to leave his room because he suffers from PTSD and another told me about the death threats he and his family have received.
People in Calais trying to cross to the UK often spend months living in tents, which are destroyed in regular sweeps by the police. In the winter, the rain and cold make conditions seem intolerable. I don’t think it’s possible to see parents trying to raise their young children in a camp in Calais and risking their lives crossing the Channel, and then say that they don’t have a genuine reason to come to the UK.
Compassion and Gratitude
Without exception, the people I have met have always been so grateful for the little help I have been able to provide and you can see people’s discomfort at not being able to give you something in return. Last week, I was trying to help a family appeal an eviction from the hotel and they insisted on giving me a cereal bar as a thank you, as it was all they had. It’s difficult to get through a minute conversation with someone without them finding you a chair. And a man who is living in one room with his family of 8 apologised for asking me to help get an oyster card for his daughter so she can go to school because he didn’t want to bother me.
Resilience and Determination
One of the first questions people often ask me is if they can get help learning English, as they are determined to rebuild their lives in the UK. And I am regularly amazed by RefuNet students’ achievements in getting qualifications and finding jobs despite the many barriers they face. People are so keen to contribute to society as soon as they can.
I can’t help but think that if Suella spent some time getting to know the people she seems so afraid of, perhaps then she would have a more compassionate policy.