Here’s my recent article for the Christmas issue of The Muswell Hill Flyer.
“Over eight million men, women and children have already fled their homes to escape war-torn Syria. Four million will spend this winter trapped in freezing temperatures in camps in surrounding countries. No doubt many thousands will be planning to risk their lives next Spring on dangerous crossings to Europe, because the fear of the journey is less than the fear of staying.
Living in a safe city in a safe country, it’s hard to comprehend the scale of the displacement. Almost the whole population of London packing their bags and abandoning their homes, jobs and lives. But this Christmas, as we gather to remember the story of Jesus, himself a refugee, it seems apt to think about how we as a country should respond to this deepening humanitarian crisis.
The United Kingdom has a proud history of helping people in need, yet since February 2014 only 216 Syrian refugees have officially been resettled under the Government’s vulnerable persons relocation scheme – less than 11 refugees a month. The Government now won’t even say how many are coming in, but it’s a fraction of the tens of thousands whom Germany and others have helped and doesn’t come close to matching the scale of the crisis. We should be taking the lead in drawing up an international response to this growing crisis, instead we stand accused of turning our backs.
People in Hornsey & Wood Green are rightly demanding more and I have been contacted by hundreds of local people urging me to put pressure on the Government to act. One resident wrote “like many others, being Jewish, I would not be alive today if the UK had shirked its responsibility just a few decades ago.”
It is heartening to see this strength of feeling. It was a local resident who organised the excellent ‘Solidarity with Refugees’ march in September where tens of thousands of people marched to Parliament Square to call on the Government to do more. Haringey Council, like many across the country, has stepped forward to say it wants to play its part; local charities, schools and businesses have co-ordinated collection centres and local people have joined forces to form the new ‘Refugees Welcome in Haringey’ volunteer group.
Yet the Government is so far failing to respond to this overwhelming demand for compassion and failing to deliver even on its own unambitious targets. I’m supporting the Citizens UK campaign calling on David Cameron to speed up the pace and resettle 1000 Syrian refugees before Christmas.
Another immediate step should be to remove refugees from the net migration target because we should not be refusing sanctuary for the vulnerable so Theresa May can sound tough on immigration. I also want to see the Government ending its opposition to helping refugees already in Europe and working with local authorities, like Haringey, to take in more refugees as quickly as possible – not leave vulnerable people to survive another winter in appalling conditions.
This crisis is getting worse and as your MP I will continue to hold the Government to account for their appalling lack of action. Visit my website at www.catherinewest.org.uk to find out ways you can help.”