ScallyMag looks at some of the attitudes surrounding refugees fleeing violence and coming to the UK…
As the Taliban continue to take control of Afghanistan and impose their extremist ideology onto the rest of the population, thousands of Afghans are trying to flee and seek refuge in both neighbouring countries, and countries further afield.
Even though most people seeking refuge and asylum make up a tiny proportion of new arrivals in Britain- in the year ending June 2021, the top five countries of origin of people seeking asylum were Iran, Albania, Eritrea, Sudan, and Iraq– the offer from the UK Government to accept Afghan refugees has connotations of those fleeing posing a problem or threat.
Whitehall has explained it is willing to accommodate for 20,000 refugees over the ‘long term’. This could mean years, and by then who knows what will happen to innocent people in the region. In terms of the number of asylum applications per head of population, the UK ranks 17th highest in Europe. The way it likes to portray itself though, you would think it would be much higher in the rankings.
This ‘offer’ combined with the long-standing Hostile Environment- a set of policies which make it difficult for anybody not from here to live in the UK- along with the continued media whitewashing of the UK’s involvement in Afghanistan through propagating images of soldiers gently cradling desperate Afghan babies, has the potential to create a very poisonous and disingenuous approach to the reality for refugees.
These ideas and how they are consciously woven into the public sphere, be it through policy or the media, seem geared to reinforce the notions that have plagued the psyche of the nation for too long: those not from here are coming to take what is yours and make your existence more difficult than it already is.
The Times recently published an article with the headline Refugees must be taught how best to fit in. We have also recently seen some MP’s and public commentators call for refugees fleeing violence to stay and fight the Taliban. The irony of middle-class speakers and members of the elite, who have likely never thrown a punch in their life, asking for the world’s most vulnerable to battle with their deadly perpetrator tells you all you need to know about privilege.
Usurpingly, and in many ways understandably, this rhetoric has filtered down to some portions of working-class communities across the country and here in Liverpool. I have literally been in a conversation recently where somebody stated they didn’t want refugees coming here as it may impact their job prospects and drain the benefit system. One person even stated there may be another terror attack, despite there never being one in Liverpool relating to issues in the Middle East.
I often wonder if these attitudes towards people trying to escape horror and find a better life for themselves will change. They probably won’t. The sense of individualism and how much somebodies ‘worth’ is from an economical standpoint will probably continue to triumph and determine how people are viewed or accepted.
Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean that the ideas and the rhetoric surrounding them are true. There are many facts out there that suggest the contrary. What matters is if people want to accept these facts around refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants, and adjust their views accordingly.
People seeking asylum are looking for a place of safety, and around 42% of displaced people across are the world are children. Despite what some people may believe, there is no such thing as an illegal asylum seeker. International Law states that people have the right to seek asylum in any country that has signed the 1951 Convention. It is also accepted within this convention that for people to escape, they may have to use irregular means to do so. There is no ‘legal’ way to travel to the UK when it comes to fleeing war and terror.
It is often believed that refugees coming to the UK and other countries are a ‘drain’ on resources. In Sweden, the government invested accordingly around those seeking refuge. The results saw income for the areas invested in- for both refugees and others in the areas- as opposed to any predicated financial hit.
In the UK, there are around 1200 medically qualified refugees according to the British Medical Association Database. It costs around £25,000 to support a refugee doctor to practice in the UK as opposed to the cost of around £200-250,000 it costs to train a new doctor here.
It could be argued that when fleeing for your life, one of the last things on your mind would be ‘how much money will I be entitled to when I get to the UK?’ Even if it was, the answer is not a lot. The Home Office gives people seeking asylum around £5 a day. Regardless of how many refugees come here, it will always be the Government who decide to continue with a welfare system that continues to degrade and disrespect people in society.
There is a lot of pushback and ‘whataboutery’ when it comes to supporting and accepting refugees: What about our own homeless and our own lack of jobs? These arguments are often put forward by people who have no interest in such issues anyway. If they did, they would know that there are huge bodies of work taking place to tackle such issues. They often fail to, or don’t want to, acknowledge that these issues are caused by decades of inept governments and the placement of capital growth as a priority over human dignity, not people from other countries who don’t want to die.
Thankfully, there are many initiatives, charity campaigns, and different forms of organising here in Liverpool to help support and welcome refugees from Afghanistan and other countries. These can be found online and on social media. Our Mayor has also gave her unequivocal support in ensuring that the local authority will play their part in the resettlement scheme.
It is amazing how mental gymnastics flips into action for some when thinking about something so simple as people fleeing for safety. Quite simply, if the shoe was on the other foot, we would all be doing the same.
Questions as to why some people continue to have negative attitudes towards refugees may be rooted in misinformation, racism, the impacts of neo-liberal ideology, and individualism. The fetishization of elitism and aspiring to be part of something you never can be plays a part in the down-punching on those whose lives are literally are in danger. This is representative of the priorities for some.
On a humanitarian level we should absolutely be accepting as many refugees as possible without question. Any economic argument or outrage designed to push back at this should be placed firmly at the feet of those in power, not those who have lost everything.