Can’t we share our world?

 

Is it just me or is the UK becoming a less caring place? 

For many years while I was working, I was involved with an educational charity, which is still going strong, called Global Footsteps.

Through exchanges, travel, conferences and volunteering, young adults from many countries developed their understanding of global issues and became immersed in other cultures.  At an individual level, this broadened their minds and some long-lasting friendships developed.

On a wider level some really good projects were carried out.  A much-needed health centre was built in Kenya.  Classrooms were made secure and weatherproof.  Boreholes were dug and water tanks supplied in villages and schools where previously water had to be collected daily from the river or lake.

These days I can’t travel that far so I support others who can.  There is a wonderful charity called Hands Around the World and a friend of mine does amazing work with them.  I also sponsor a child through Compassion UK, a charity that another friend of mine is deeply involved in.

So, I know there are still lots of good things happening and lots of good people trying to improve the environment and enhance other people’s lives.

However, reading the daily news is heart-breaking and fills me with despair, especially the traumatic plight of refugees worldwide.  I can tolerate most things, but cruelty to children is just a step too far.  And, the US policy of taking children away from their parents is just intolerable.  The long-term consequences of the emotional and psychological damage this will cause to the children and their parents are dreadful to contemplate.  Imagine if you had your children forcibly removed from you just because you were homeless and hopeless!

I know there has always been a refugee problem, even Shakespeare wrote about it when he collaborated on the play about Sir Thomas More.  His character appealed to Englishmen to be compassionate to refugees, who were called strangers…

‘Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,
Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,
Plodding to the ports and coasts for transportation.’

Today we do see it, daily, on our TV screens.

According to the Refugee Council there are over 65 million people around the globe who have had to flee their homes.  Can you even imagine how awful that would be?  It is like the entire population of the UK being displaced.  Millions of these people then have to flee their country and become the refugees we read about daily.  BUT IT COULD JUST AS EASILY BE US.

So as ‘Refugee Week’ ends I want to do my tiny bit to raise awareness of the top twenty facts as revealed by the Refugee Council and based on asylum statistics.

Hopefully they make interesting reading…

1. Last year, 362,376 people arrived in Europe via sea. Just under half were women and children.

2. While the pictures we may see on TV perhaps make us think that most refugees are coming to Europe it simply isn’t the case. The UN’s Refugee Agency estimates that nearly nine in ten of the world’s refugees are sheltered by developing countries.

3. Most refugees just move from one poor country to another. Uganda hosts a staggering 1 million refugees from South Sudan. In two weeks alone, Uganda offered refuge to more people than Britain did all year. 

4. Britain is not Europe’s top recipient of asylum applications. In 2016, Germany, Italy and France all received at least twice as many asylum applications as the UK. In Germany alone, 722,265 asylum applications were made.

5. Given the world is facing the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War, comparatively few people make it to Britain in their search for safety. Asylum applications in the UK actually decreased by 25% to 27,316 in the year ending June 2017.

It’s hardly surprising, given the barriers people face in reaching safe places to rebuild their lives.  Britain offers no asylum visa. In fact, there are very few, legal ways for refugees to safely escape their country and claim asylum in another country. The truth is, when war breaks out, countries like Britain often close down refugees’ legal escape routes. Refugees don’t place their lives in smugglers’ hands because they want to. They do it because they often have no other choice.

6. The lack of safe and legal routes for refugees to reach safety and claim asylum has deadly results. Already this year 2,410 men, women and children have lost their lives during their desperate attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Every death was a tragedy. Even those who make it have encountered many dangers in their journey, not just in their countries of origin. We hear horrific stories of kidnap, rape, imprisonment and torture in countries refugees are travelling through, including Libya.

7. Fewer women than men come to the UK in search of safety. In 2016, 25% of asylum claims in the UK were from women. Most people claiming asylum in the UK will have made a dangerous journey to get to safety; for many women this means risking sexual violence.

8. People who are seeking asylum make up a tiny proportion of new arrivals in Britain. Today’s statistics show that 588,000 people arrived in Britain in the last year– but just 27,316 of them were seeking refuge here.  Of course, not all people seeking asylum will be granted permission to stay in Britain.

9. World events often correlate directly with asylum applications; last year people were most likely to seek refuge here from the Middle East, desperate to escape on-going conflict and the murderous advance of ISIS. The top 3 countries of origin of people applying for asylum in Britain in the twelve months to June 2017 were: Iran, Pakistan and Iraq.

10. The British asylum system is extremely tough. Just 34% of initial decisions made in the year to June 2017 have been grants of protection (asylum or humanitarian protection). However, many refugees had to rely on the courts rather than the Government to provide them with the protection they need. The proportion of asylum appeals allowed over that time was 36%.

11. 594 children granted asylum whilst they were still under 18. A further 240 had to wait until they were over 18 to receive the news that they are safely protected here for five years. The top country of origin during that period was Afghanistan, followed by Eritrea. More unaccompanied children applied having fled Sudan than any other country, in the last quarter.

Unfortunately, being granted protection as a refugee means that those children will never be able to live with their parents. Shockingly, the UK deliberately prevents unaccompanied children from bringing their parents and siblings to live with them in safety.

12. In the twelve months up to June 2017, 48 children were locked up in immigration detention, despite a Government promise in 2010 to end the practice. 83% of the children who left detention were released, rendering their detention not only harmful but futile.

13. The UK Government has the power to detain people who are here seeking refuge. Today’s statistics show that in the last 12 months, 27,819 people were imprisoned in immigration detention centres; among them many people seeking asylum. 52% were released back into the community rendering their detention pointless. Some nationalities are nearly always released from detention; over 90% of Iranians detained were released during this time period begging the question why they are detained in the first place.

14. In contrast to most European countries the UK has no limit on the length of time someone can be detained. At the end of June, 271 people had been locked up for longer than 6 months, purely for immigration reasons.

15. The number of Syrians who have sought asylum in Britain since the conflict began in 2011 stands at just 10,858. That’s just 0.21% of Syria’s refugees. Like most of the world’s refugees, very few Syrians come to Britain in their search for safety.

16. The number of Syrian refugees resettled in Britain stands at 8,283 since the conflict began. In September 2015, the then Prime Minister David Cameron promised to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020. That’s just 4,000 a year. There are over 4.8 million Syrian refugees.

17. In the year to June 2017, just 916 non-Syrian refugees were resettled in Britain via the Gateway Protection Programme run in conjunction with the UN’s Refugee Agency (UNHCR).  Sadly, just 1% of the world’s refugees will ever be resettled which means many refugees face a long, uncertain wait to hear if they will ever be able to rebuild their lives in safety.

18. Shockingly, at the end of June 2017 10,033 people who had made asylum applications had been waiting for longer than six months for an initial decision. The number of people having to wait this long has risen by over 50% in the last year. 

19. At the end of June, 38,954 asylum seekers and their dependants were being supported by the Government. This figure has risen since 2012 but is still below the figure for end of 2003 when there were 80,123 asylum seekers being supported.  This does not mean asylum seekers live in luxury; far from it; people have no say in where they live and are often left to survive on around £5 a day

20. In the last three months, the UK has agreed to provide protection (refugee status or humanitarian protection) to 2,005 applicants and their dependants. Unfortunately, a large proportion of them will face homelessness and destitution as they struggle to secure an income and a rental property before they are evicted from Home Office provision

This last fact brings me back to my opening question.  Are we in the UK becoming less caring?

I believe as a country we are, and I believe the government is unwittingly helping to make it so.  ‘Austerity’ measures brought in by the government have impacted negatively on every aspect of ordinary people’s lives, and on society as a whole.  Whether it be the changes to funding or the regulations imposed on local councils, the support structures are beyond breaking point.  It is obvious to all that roads are falling apart and our rail services are inferior to most of Europe.  Hospitals and schools are struggling to cope and social services can no longer provide the level of support needed by vulnerable people.  Housing policy is not providing enough affordable homes so homelessness is on the rise.  The police are losing the battle against ‘small-time’ criminals who make neighbourhoods feel less safe and secure than they were in the past.  And charities are being surreptitiously turned into businesses to paper over the cracks. 

My aim is to write a mainly positive blog, but this week I find little to feel positive about.

My adult step daughter is deaf and has learning difficulties which make her very vulnerable.  She has lived in sheltered accommodation since 2001.  Here she has been safe and received the support she needs to lead her life as independently as possible.  But now that austerity measures have crippled the county’s care sector, her package has been removed.  Consequently, she, and the other girls she lives with, have been given notice to leave their supported accommodation, which we thought was a home for life. 

Having searched for alternative accommodation, we now see the extent of the problem.  There just isn’t any suitable and affordable one-bedroom accommodation to be had.  I have no idea how this will end but it is causing us deep anxiety and sleepless nights.  I know there are countless people worse off than us, but, it is hard to be positive today. 

Share Your World

Enveloped by a Rainbow

Doughnut building enveloped in rainbow lights copyright GCHQ, used with permission

Doughnut building enveloped in rainbow lights
copyright GCHQ2015, used with permission

For this week’s photo challenge the prompt is the word “enveloped”.  I understand it to mean totally surrounded or covered, and as such I could only choose one photo as illustration.  I did not take the photo, the copyright belongs to the Government Communications Headquarters, GCHQ, but I was given permission to use it for this blog.  The photo shows the entire doughnut-shaped building, which is near my home, surrounded and lit up in the colours of the rainbow.  This occurred last weekend (17th May 2015) on Sunday evening from 9pm as the sun set.  It was to mark the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.  It was amazing in many respects.  Firstly, that GCHQ would make such a public gesture of solidarity with these misunderstood minority communities; and secondly, that a large crowd of people, including myself, drove, walked, and waited there to see it late on a Sunday evening.  I know parents who kept young children up specially to see it and then took the opportunity to discuss the reason for the event.

Not so long ago it was illegal in this country for men and women to be practising homosexuals.  And it would have been unthinkable to get a job with the security and intelligence services while openly gay.  But of course many people did work in these fields while keeping their sexuality hidden.  One such man was the mathematician and cryptographer Alan Turing.  He worked at Bletchley Park, which was the forerunner to GCHQ.  There he and a brilliant young team helped crack Germany’s Enigma Code, which certainly shortened the second world war by a couple of years thereby saving millions of lives.  But when his sexual orientation was discovered, Turing lost his security clearance and was convicted for gross indecency.  His life was ruined by this conviction and his reputation was destroyed.  He was subjected to ‘corrective’ hormonal treatment until, two years later it is believed, he committed suicide by cyanide poisoning.  In 2013 he was granted a posthumous pardon by the Queen and honoured for his work.

In 2014 the film The Imitation Game was made about Turing and his work.  The film is so good that it won an Oscar as well as 51 other awards.  Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley and Matthew Goode, the acting is outstanding.   The truth may be stretched a little for dramatic effect, but the film is gripping from beginning to end.

My opposition to any form of discrimination and prejudice stems from my years in teaching when I observed the misery it caused to children.  During my 30+ years working in the field of education, I taught over a thousand primary school pupils in state schools.  It is reasonable to assume that they were a fairly representative sample of children raised during the second half of the 20th century.  The majority were from stable, loving and supportive families with parents who worked hard and were able to provide good homes, experiences and opportunities for their children.  But over the years I also worked with many children who were not so lucky.  Lots of families suffered from the negative effects of poverty through no fault of their own.  But in some cases families were dysfunctional due to addictions-to gambling, alcohol or illegal drugs.  There was also a criminal element including a small minority of parents who were actually dangerously antisocial.  Whatever the cause, the children suffered most.

In all those years I only encountered one child with what I would call a ‘wicked’ nature.  He took pleasure in inflicting pain and suffering on other children, animals and even his own family.  Every available agency tried to help him, his parents, and the school, manage and change his behaviour, to no avail.  In those years too I met many confused and unhappy children who had a poor self-image and little confidence.  There were as many reasons as children for this; inadequate parenting, poverty, social, emotional or physical issues, learning difficulties, and sometimes gender issues.

Someone once explained to me that the gap between how we see ourselves and how others see us is crucial to our self-esteem.  School age children are social creatures.  They need to be accepted and respected by their peer group.  They are not born with low self-esteem.  It is an acquired condition.  If, for whatever reason, they do not ‘fit in’ to their group, their self-esteem suffers.  And they may become victims of bullying.  This is enormously important because research has shown that low self-esteem leads to unhappiness, ill health, and a less rewarding and successful life.  In extreme cases it can lead to suicide.

This brings me to the tragic case of a 15 year old boy who took his own life because he was being taunted at school for behaviour which ignorant bullies called ‘gay’.  The effect of this on his family and true friends was so traumatic that some months later his father took his own life and then one of his friends did the same.

This is why I am so proud of GCHQ for lighting up the ‘doughnut’ building in rainbow colours at the weekend.  In this country, and in many others I am sure, the past has been marred by intolerance bred of ignorance and fear.  People have been judged because of the colour of their skin; their accent, age, gender, beliefs, finances, job, clothes, or sexuality rather than their humanity.  There is no place in a civilised society for such prejudices.  Critics have denounced the gesture online as a political gimmick, but if it draws crowds of ordinary families who then discuss these issues with their children then it was a very worthwhile one in my opinion.

Read about a previous creative gesture by GCHQ in my blogpost Living Poppy in a Doughnut

The Boy

Fragile and different

Defeated by the bullies

He jumped to his death

 

The girl

Remnants of ribbons

And fading flowers weep, where she

Fell to her death

 

The Father

The death of his son

Drove him to despair.  Destroyed,

His life he ended.

 

The Cemetery

Lawned garden of grief

Compassion carved into stone

Too late to show love

 

All Lives Matter

I was very moved this morning by the news that over five thousand people had gathered yesterday for the funeral of the three students who were murdered on Tuesday in a brutal attack at Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  This is on top of the three thousand who attended a candlelit vigil for them on Wednesday night.

I didn’t know these young people, but they were clearly much loved and respected by their community.  The people who did know them best, their friends, relatives and fellow students, describe them as inspirational, happy, caring people.

Deah Barakat, aged just 23, was known for his charitable work and volunteering which inspired others to do the same.  Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha  was his 21 year old wife and they were described as very much in love and recently married.  Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha was Yusor’s sister and was devoted to the couple.  She was only 19.

A neighbour has admitted killing them apparently.  How and why someone could do such an awful thing is beyond my comprehension.   Maybe he is mentally ill.  Maybe he is evil.  Maybe he was jealous of their youth, happiness and popularity.   Or, maybe he was prejudiced because of their religion, they were Muslims.  Whatever the reason, he is in the minority of wicked people who are destroying our world, and our ability to live together with peace, justice and compassion.  And today the world is a sadder place because of his actions.  As John Donne said in his famous poem

“Each man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind”

But the crowds of people who gathered to pay their respects and honour their memory are, in my opinion, the normally silent majority who, though usually powerless to make change, are prepared to stand in solidarity when something is clearly wrong.

This is the mark of a caring community and a civilised society.

It is up to each individual of whatever age or background to decide whether they wish to be anti-society, or part of the silent majority who want to make the world a better place for all; not just for the people who look, think, dress and act like themselves.

I would ask today that we think about it.  And, in recognition of the tragedy that has befallen these lovely young people and their families, let us all do something, however small, to make our bit of the world a better place; a place where everyone is respected for their humanity, and is treated with dignity.  Find someone who needs your kindness, a child, a young parent, a teenager, a troubled adult, a carer, a frail, disabled or elderly person, and give them your time and attention.  Listen to what they are saying and make them feel that they are valued.  That their lives, however different matter to someone.

 

No man is an island,

Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

John Donne

http://gu.com/p/45nm4

http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/feb/13/thousands-funeral-muslim-students-north-carolina-shooting

https://embed.theguardian.com/embed/video/us-news/video/2015/feb/12/chapel-hill-vigil-muslims-north-carolina-university-video