As part of Christian Aid’s Change the Story campaign, I have written the following letter to the editors of my two local papers. I am exploring the possibility of sending an edited version to national press. I commend the campaign to you.
One of the things which makes me proud to have adopted Coventry as my home is our long history of outreach and welcome, born out of the destruction of the second world war, which lives on in the work of Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre, in the city’s key role in the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme, and in dozens of other places. This attitude of welcome is one of the key values of our society. We believe that anybody can contribute to the tapestry of multi-cultural Britain, wherever they are from. This was true during the Kindertransport of the late 1930s, it was true for the Vietnamese Boat People in the 1970s, the Asians who fled Idi Amin’s Uganda, and the refugees from Kosovo’s war. Our country is enriched by these people; without refugees we would not have Marks and Spencer’s, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Millifandom, or the music of M.I.A.
Yet somehow, in recent years we seem to have forgotten the fundamental value of each and every person. Across the media, migrant ‘hordes’ entering Europe are seen only as a burden, whether fleeing persecution or simply seeking a better life. Newspapers and television tap into our collective sorrow when pictures emerge of young boys pulled from bombed houses, or washed up on Greek beaches, yet such heart-breaking stories are disassociated from discussion of the people who camp out in Calais, or who pay people traffickers to smuggle them across the Mediterranean. The media is of course driven by public opinion, yet it also has a vital role to play in shaping that opinion. If every story about the battle of Aleppo (which has now lasted longer than the siege of Sarajevo) was accompanied by calls to do more for those people who had escaped the destruction, public opinion would soon favour more radical support for refugees.
At present, the UK Government is committed to resettling 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020. Lebanon, a country roughly the size of Yorkshire, is currently hosting around 700,000 refugees from Syria. I believe that the UK Government can and must do more. We should strive to host at least double the number of refugees that the Government has currently pledged, but we can only achieve this if the media helps shape debate.
Please, help us remember that all people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Help us to see the positive role that migrants and refugees play in our society.