This is a rant. Slightly political. But mostly humane.
From 2008 to 2010, I worked for the British Refugee Council in Birmingham. I look back very fondly working alongside so many extraordinary people, many of whom were refugees and had experienced loss, fear and pain (emotional and physical) on a level that I still have problems comprehending today. My role wasn’t high up or major, but my experience was certainly character building and it opened my eyes to the real issues, but also racism. Not in the charity, mind, but on the streets. To the colleagues though, I will always be grateful for what they did for me personally. There is no price on “a real life education.”
Before I worked there, I always remember the term “asylum seeker” being a “dirty word”. By that I mean a term used by the right wing press in a general way to describe refugees. I didn’t really understand the technical meaning until I began working the Refugee Council, as well as the different forms of permissions to stay once a refugee gains asylum status. It was confusing then. I have no idea how it is now. I also had no idea how hard life was as an asylum seeker, especially a failed asylum seeker.
When telling people that I worked for the Refugee Council, it would always be a lottery of reactions, inevitably, from “That’s commendable work” to “Send them home” and “Fuck off out my shop”. Many had built their ideason what they read in the press, and it was the same old thing, about them taking jobs (despite them not having permission to work) or earning more in welfare than native people (simply not true). Some people remained stubborn against argument, while others would listen and learn. But back then, I remember their faces would turn sour at the sound of the term “asylum seeker” but would lighten their mood at the word “refugee”.
Now, I understand the political landscapes in the UK and US have taken huge side steps to the right in recent months, which has had an impact on the environment and mood around the world. I also comprehend that times change, so does language change, and I haven’t been back in the UK since 2014. However, how we have arrived at a time that the word refugee conjures negative images in the mainstream press really saddens me. But also, it makes very embarrassing to label myself British. As a Brummie, I am proud of the city’s diverse mix of cultures and, on the most part, our welcoming nature, despite our droning accents which suggests otherwise. But the lack of tolerance (or in many cases outright hate) I read and hear in the British press, especially about refugees, people in the most need of help, does not sit well with me. In fact, it’s very uncomfortable.
What makes it worst is Britain’s involvement in recent conflicts, and its refusal to take in our fair share of the refugees. I try to defend my country, especially as I live abroad, but knowing this makes it difficult.
If we have arrived at an age where it’s okay to portray those in desperate need of help as dirty, I really am worried about the state of society.
How do we fix it?