"Most of them are economic migrants."
"We already spend billions of pounds on foreign aid."
"The UK is full!!!! We can't have anymore people here."
"They're coming for the services that our taxes pay for."
Recently, I've had a glimpse of what it's like to be outside the echo chamber that is my Twitter feed and despite it being a very frightening place to be, I have vowed to venture out into that wilderness as often as I possibly can. This article is for those of you who may have concerns similar to those listed above. You are certainly not alone in your fears and assumptions but I hope to change your approach to the humanitarian catastrophe that dominates hearts, minds and crudely constructed headlines across the world.
Let's start with the basics; they are refugees, not migrants. The top 3 nationalities of those travelling to the EU are Syrian, Afghani and Iraqi. All of these countries are areas of political, social or military conflict. In Syria, the Assad regime have been bombing their own people, in addition to the very real threat of ISIS in both Syria and Iraq meaning that all civilian lives are in danger. More important than whether they are migrants or refugees, these are desperate humans. They are risking their very existence by coming to the EU. Imagine being in a position where spending every penny you have to travel across a sea that has already claimed 2,000 lives this year is safer than staying in your own home.
The number of people crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach the EU has exceeded 300,000 this year. This might seem like a big number until compare it to the 4 million Syrian refugees that exist in total. They aren't just crossing to reach the UK, as many people have assumed. In fact, Germany has had 3 times the number of asylum applications the UK has. We have accepted only 114 refugees for every million of our population - a third of the EU average. Germany has accepted 905 and Hungary, a huge 3,322. This is a disgrace when you consider that we have the second highest GDP in Europe.
A warm, homemade welcome for refugees arriving in Germany.
Angela Merkel has said that Germany expect to take 800,000 refugees this year. David Cameron has said we will accept just 20,000 over 5 years and children will be deported at the age of 18. So no, we are not doing our bit. But why are they travelling all the way to Germany and beyond for refuge? The Germans have been the most accepting and generous of all the countries in their approach so it's natural for refugees to travel there. Jordan and Lebanon, Syria's neighbouring countries, have taken more refugees each than the number that have entered the EU in total. We are just receiving the people who cannot fit in camps closer to Syria.
No, Britain isn't 'full'. Just 9% of the UK is developed (the BBC has even reported this figure to be as low as 2%). That means we are at least 91% empty. Moreover, the refugees don't want to steal anyone's job but, if somebody who is unable to speak English and has no contacts or local knowledge can manage to do so, then maybe you weren't fit for that occupation in the first place.
It is our problem. It is a global problem. Unless you think we can ship 4 million people off to a different planet then I'm afraid we're all going to have to take a little bit of responsibility. For once, we are all going to be forced to consider what life might be like outside of our homes with tiled roofs, double glazed windows and a Netflix subscription.
Correcting me, then correcting himself (after a brief but heated debate).
If you already believe the UK should make #RefugeesWelcome then it was probably a waste of time reading this article. You know the stats. You are trying to comprehend the reality. You are aware of our responsibility. All you need to do is share this, for the people who might not be quite so open-minded. However involved you may be in your local refugee solidarity group, however many bags of clothes you may have donated, I can tell you now - your job is not yet over. I urge you to not delete the friends who clutter your feeds with hatred. Pressing 'delete' isn't going to change anything, clicking 'write a comment...' just might. I posted a rough version of this blogpost on my own Facebook prior to publishing here and one very succinct response made the couple of hours spent writing it all worth it: "Feeling pretty gross for some of the things I've assumed now...this is shocking". That is one more person who might donate, fundraise and challenge others on their prejudice. In your pursuit of justice, make sure you pick up some activists-in-the-waiting along the way.