"I've been waiting 15 years. What kind of life is that?"
That's just part of a conversation that I had with an asylum seeker earlier this week. What made him come to the UK in the first place I asked? Could he ever contemplate going back? No, not back but perhaps forward - somewhere other than here, Canada, Mexico or maybe America. Somewhere where there might be an opportunity to do more, to make a difference, to really have a life.
Let's face it, to pack up and leave your home, your family, your friends, things must be pretty bad. You must be living in fear for your life, you must have reached a place where you realise that any kind of life is better than death and you take a chance and you make a decision to live.
And the gentle gentleman that I spoke with he decided to live. He told me that even though he had no home, even though he was still waiting, he was grateful for the kindness in his life, for the person who gave him a bicycle; the people who help him at a monthly drop in centre that he goes to, the people who let him sleep in their living room. He told me that he's grateful that he's alive but he still wonders if just living is enough and he wants more. He wants to stop waiting.
When someone is brave enough to make the decision to live rather than die shouldn't we help them? Don't we have some kind of obligation to provide safe haven, to help them rather than, as our government suggested, just last week, to let them just drown in the sea?
Open your eyes and there are reminders of this country's rich history of helping refugees everywhere. When you walk through Liverpool Street train station there are statues of the Kindertransport children who were rescued from Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 40s; when you turn on the television you see 105 year old Sir Nicholas Winton being honoured by the Czech Republic for all that he did to help people to live. When you ask children in a classroom how many of their grandparents were born in this country you get a snapshot of the impact that migration and immigration have had on our country, in a positive way. At that time there was no question of leaving people to die or letting them drown on their way here. If things had been different the UK would be a very different place. You could argue that once you've had a glimpse at death you work harder to make the most of your life. According to a new study produced by University College London (UCL) immigrants from the 10 countries that joined the EU in 2004 contributed more to the UK than they took out in benefits. So isn't it win win all round?
Fifteen years is a long time to wait. You can do a lot in that time. Those of us who have opportunities and choices, homes and families around us, those of us who have freedom often don't take the chance to stop, take stock and be grateful for all that it is that we have. Nobody will kill or harm us for the decisions we make. For us it's not a choice between life and death, it's really just a choice between life and a life really well lived. Others are not so lucky. Surely it's our responsibility to give everyone the opportunities we have - a life well lived should not be a privilege it should be something that anyone can have. Nobody should be waiting 15 years for that.Suggest a correction