Couldn’t Concentrate Today Until I’d Written to My MP

Letter to Dr Philip Lee MP on the Refugee Crisis September 2015

This long letter is really just a short request to support a parliamentary debate on the refugee crisis.

War and migration are undoubtedly wicked problems that will not be solved simply or quickly. However that is no excuse for facing them with indifference, hostility and a lack of compassion. I find it ironic that since coming to power the present government has celebrated aspiration yet simultaneously condemns others for wanting to seek a better life.

The answer to the current crisis may not be to take ever more refugees but it is also certainly not to do nothing. The long term answer is of course to resolve the causes not the symptoms but that does not mean those symptoms can just be ignored. It does not mean we have the right to judge, diminish or insult people whose lives we cannot possibly imagine. Nobody believes that taking more refugees will solve the crisis but that is not a reason not to do so whilst a longer term solution is found.

We can take more refugees than we have at present and we should be more actively involved in responding to this crisis as a resourceful, concerned and compassionate global citizen. Of course, our altruism must be tempered with pragmatism. However, we are nowhere near the point where a greater response on our part would jeopardise the prosperity and security of this country and its citizens. Though there are limits to our resources and capacity for action and welcome we have not yet approached them. Though it’s impossible to materially help everyone we can at least accept and even be firm in our limitations with regret not indignation. Even if we think the solutions should come from elsewhere and other countries should pull more weight we are only answerable for ourselves and the tone of our response. We have faced much sterner challenges and responded with great ingenuity and fortitude. Those are the British values we should call upon today.

Our country would not be what it is if others had said they had no more to spare in our times of need and war. As others stood with us in darker times so we should stand with them today. Every year we are told via ceremony and commemoration that we should not forget those who fought for the things we value. One of the greatest achievements to come from one of the darkest and deadliest times the world has ever seen was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We should certainly not forget that and remember that global co-operation and the recognition of the validity of every human life is what we fought for. Forgetting the “inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family” is something we should all resist just as we should condemn and not contribute when “disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind” (The Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

Of course I do not understand the full extent of the crisis nor have much of an idea of the best response. I understand I’m a little person, but I would expect the leadership of this country to be taking on a greater and more empathetic role. I would welcome a debate in parliament on the UK response to the present refugee camp and have the opportunity to better understand the ways we are responding. I am proud of the existing work government and non-government agencies and our armed services are already doing to assist refugees and I would be even prouder of this country were it to stand up and do even more. I believe we can.

I am sure that many of the people desperately fleeing violence and persecution would not wish to leave their homes as passionately as some people in this country would not want them here. No-one wants to be in this situation. I would like to hear the voice of the refugees more in the debate. It should not be beyond the capability of some of the most advanced countries in the world to enable those voices to be heard so we can truly understand why they are fleeing and what conditions would enable them return to the lives they have, in may cases reluctantly, left behind. Only then, when we listen, understand and involve them rather assuming we know where they have come from, what they are seeking and what is best for them can we get beyond a simplistic and toxic discourse and draw on the wealth and great minds available in this world to make our way towards some sort of more stable solution for as many people as possible.

We cannot and should not shut our doors and isolate ourselves from the world as though those suffering are not there and we have no part to play in either the problems or the solutions. We cannot extract ourselves from history and we should not extract ourselves from the difficult task of building a more prosperous and sustainable future for the billions who share this planet.

It is easy to think there is little I can do individually. It is easy to try and avoid the news and get on with my comfortable life. It is easy to feel helpless and powerless. It’s easy to be angry. It’s easy to say this isn’t my problem. It’s also easy to react too hastily in the face of distressing images and strong emotions. It’s hard to know what actions will make a difference, hard to devote time, money and energy to doing them and hard to have patience and hope.

But it’s no longer possible for me not to see and not to know what is happening around the shores and borders of Europe. Having seen, I cannot in good conscience simply stand by and shrug my shoulders. I will continue to donate and do what I can, however little, and I will continue to try and find ways to do more. One more thing I can do is write to you as my representative in parliament.

I am urging you to recognise that there are indeed members of the public in this country and your constituency who would like to see this matter further up the government’s agenda, who would like to be able to do more. I ask for your support in seeing the crisis debated in parliament soon to discuss both short-term relief and concerted leadership on the long-term joined-up commitment solving this intractable problem will require.

I know not everyone will agree with the sentiments in this letter.  This is a difficult subject that arouses strong opinions all round.  That’s why we have parliamentary debates so all that outrage channelled not at each other but into a democratic process that works towards consensus on how we should act and proceed.

If you disagree feel free to write your own thoughts in your own letter to your MP and on your own blog so that should we get a debate it can be an informed and representative one.  Don’t feel free to hurl abuse at people who may have a different opinion to you.

If you are as frustrated and saddened as I am at the number of people forcibly displaced from their homes and the amount of senseless violence in supposedly civilised societies then there are things you can do, some of them quite easy.