Saturday 15 August 2015

Children are asylum seekers too ...... by Miriam Halahmy

Recently I have discovered that the UK still has around the same number of applications for asylum as we have had for at least the past 8 years - just over 30,000 a year.
In 2014 there were 1,861 separated children seeking asylum in the UK.
Hardly a swarm! Not a record to be proud of either.

I have become increasingly concerned about the plight of people seeking a place of safety in recent times. Many are children, some only babies in arms. I have asked myself, What would I do in this situation? The same as my great grandparents, I hope.

My grandparents with my Dad aged seven and his sister, in Paris for my grandmother's brother, Louis', wedding in 1928. In 1942 Louis was deported from Paris and murdered in Auschwitz.
My grandmother wrote in her brief autobiography that in 1904 when she was only eight she heard her parents ( my great grandparents) speak about leaving their home in Poland. "At that time pogroms were raging in Poland and Russia. Poland belonged to Russia and in those years anti-semitism was very ripe...All this I heard my parents speak about." Her parents left soon after with her two brothers for Belgium and France.

Grandma's school Atlas, Lyon 1908
My grandparents came to the UK before WW1. If they had not come they would have been murdered in the 1940s in the Holocaust. My grandfather had five brothers, all married with children. Only one survived after six years in camps and forced labour - his great niece, my father's cousin. We share the same maiden name and I visited her today. She has back troubles and she quietly said, "The vertebrae in my neck were all crushed by the end of the war from carrying sacks of cement as a child."

With modern 24 hours news coverage, newspapers published every day, constant updating of media on the net, there is no excuse for ignorance. We can all weigh up the information and form an opinion about migration and the need to seek a place of safety.

The world is on the move, similar to when the  Jewish communities of Poland and Russia were forced out by terror in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and came to the UK and America, contributing enormously to life where ever they went. Were the Jewish migrants unusual? Were they more honest, hard-working, clever than current migrants? Well, let's look at the evidence.

One piece has stood out for me since the riots and looting of August 2011. London looked as though it was burning and young people were at the heart of the terror. But let's look again at who did not riot.
David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, has pointed out that 20,000 young people in his constituency did not riot. Neither did young people from some of the other communities such as the Chinese and Bangladeshi communities.
But neither were the rioters and looters asylum-seeking children.

I am not going to quote evidence I don't have to hand about hard-working immigrants and how their children settle down in our schools and do well. But everything I read in the media suggests this is true in the UK and around the world. Certainly I have seen enough  first-hand evidence as a teacher in London schools for twenty-five years and then on author visits to schools.

Children of Bangladeshi families, East End school, 2013.
Our country is not full. We could take everyone in the jungle in Calais tomorrow in fact. Yes, I know some of them will be criminals but there will always be a minority of bad migrants elbowing their way in. It's a fact of life. Some billionaires who take up residence here are not so great either.
 But that is not a reason to raise higher the barbed wire.

The UK needs to take its place alongside all the countries of the EU and around the world to try and ease the plight of those fleeing their homes and radically improve our miserable asylum figures. Those are the statistics I want to see on the news.

We cannot change the situation on the ground in Syria, for example, but can we really continue to close our eyes to children and adults clambering off rubber dinghies onto Greek beaches and pretend they will just disappear?

Teenage asylum seeker reading a piece  he has written about leaving his home and family. Most asylum seekers never see their families and their homes again and suffer terrible homesickness for years.


Heather Dyer said...

Well said. The lack of empathy from some of us who have nothing to complain about, is depressing.

Rosie Longstocking said...

I agree, many of us have relations or friends who arrived in the UK from places of conflict or who wanted work. The reason people are fleeing? Guns and ammunition. Stop the manufacture of arms and people will stop leaving their homes.

Jane McLoughlin said...

I agree with all you say. I would add, though, that as Rosie points out, a lot of what is happening on "our doorstep" is at least partially the result of our proxy wars, our support of the global arms trade and other involvement in destabilising political and military actions. We need to to be peacemakers (real peacemakers, not Tony Blair peacemakers!) as well as generous and welcoming hosts to those fleeing persecution.

Joan Lennon said...


Sue Purkiss said...

I'm glad you wrote this, Miriam. I'm horrified by our government's attitude to refugees. And the stories about your own family - no matter how often you hear such stories, they always have the power to shock.

Unknown said...

Completely with you, Miriam. I read an article which totally outlined how low the number of refugees is that the UK has taken, and how low the intake is per capita, when many EU countries are doing far more with less landmass than ours. THere is so much anti-immigrant rhetoric in the media it makes me sick, and when I see pictures of children sheltering in car parks or crushed in a mass of people getting off a train it makes me so sad - and to know they are being dehumanised as a "swarm." Enough

John Dougherty said...

Couldn't agree more.

Anne Booth said...

Well said Miriam - and you have authority when you say it because of your work with asylum seekers and your wonderful novels.

C.J.Busby said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
C.J.Busby said...

Well said. And well done for saying it. I've been wondering about posting something about this on ABBA but you've done a better job than I would have done. The rhetoric from the Tory press is just awful.

(sorry, deleted previous as typo - very annoying that blogger won't let you edit comments...)

Miriam Halahmy said...

Thanks to everyone for their comments and I think we cannot say too much about this subject - so go for it Cecilia. Great stuff.