Words Matter: “No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.”

At 11.20am on Sunday, 30th of October, the police were called to Western Jet Foil, Manston, Dover. Incendiary devices had been thrown into a centre which houses people seeking to live in the UK. This is where those fleeing persecution, war and conflict are processed. The male attacker was later found dead in his car at a nearby petrol station.

In her statement to the House of Commons on 31st of October, Suella Braverman, UK Home Secretary, said:

“Let me be clear: this is a global migration crisis. We have seen an unprecedented number of attempts to illegally cross the channel in small boats. Some 40,000 people have crossed this year alone—more than double the number of arrivals by the same point last year. Not only is this unnecessary, because many people have come from another safe country, but it is lethally dangerous. We must stop it.”

Words matter. Especially those used by people who have power and influence. Those words should be truthful and honest. In politicians, especially a Home Secretary, they should not be used to deceive, or in any way encourage others in using the tragic plight of displaced people in a racist and far right ideology.

Let’s make this clear:

The rights of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers are protected by international law, regardless of how and why they arrive in a country. They have the same rights as everyone else, plus special or specific protections including:

  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 14), which states that everyone has the right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution in other countries
  • The 1951 UN Refugee Convention (and its 1967 Protocol), which protects refugees from being returned to countries where they risk being persecuted
  • The 1990 Migrant Workers Convention, which protects migrants and their families
  • Regional Refugee law instruments (including 1969 OAU Convention, 1984 Cartagena Declaration, Common European Asylum System and Dublin Regulation)

103 million people have been forced to flee from around the world. These lives have been torn apart by conflict, persecution, war and violations of their human rights.

As of mid-2022 an estimated 1 in every 77 people worldwide were forcibly displaced, more than twice as many as a decade ago (1 in 167 in 2012). UNHCR’s assessment indicates that the number of people forcibly displaced will continue to rise during the remainder of the year. UNHCR

Organisations which support those fleeing and seeking refuge in the UK have seen a rise in misinformation and derogatory language used – in the media and by politicians, normalising language and attitudes which are the opposite of everything the UK once stood for when it fought the rise of fascism in the 1930s and 40s.

Fizza Qureshi , the CEO of Migrant Rights Network, said:

“Anti-refugee and migrant rhetoric has been increasing in recent years. From far-right groups to our own Government, a hostile narrative and treatment of people seeking safety has become more widespread and acceptable. 

“We are now living in a country which boasts that it has a proud history of welcoming refugees while implementing plans to deport them to Rwanda and cramming them into inhumane detention centres. 

“All of us, including the Government, politicians and the media have a responsibility to reflect on how we talk about refugees. Remember, your Words Matter.

“We are calling on everyone to hold those in power to account. We must send a message to say we will not allow them to scapegoat migratised people nor will we allow them to detain vulnerable people in our name.”

The recent firebomb incident at the migration processing centre in Dover should shock us all.

We’ve been here before in our history. In 1938 there was growing concern about the number of refugees fleeing Europe as extreme right wing ideology took a grip of several European countries; Germany, Italy, Spain and Romania.

Kristallnacht, The Night of Broken Glass, took place in Germany over the days of the 9th and 10th of November 1938. Extreme violence was unleashed on the Jewish population in Germany, Austria and parts of Czechoslovakia. After this episode, efforts in the UK to help and support refugees became more urgent.

“The first Kindertransport arrived at Harwich, in the UK, on 2 December 1938, bringing 196 children from a Berlin Jewish orphanage torched by Nazis during Kristallnacht on 9 November 1938. In the following 10 months, 10,000 unaccompanied child refugees came to the UK.”

People knew at that time the horrors that were taking place. The hate speech directed at people of a different race or religion found support then too in the UK. But there were also people here (and in far greater numbers) who opposed and exposed what was going on.

Scotland has consistently put out a positive message about welcoming migrants. Since the Russian attack on Ukraine, more than 21,000 people with a Scottish sponsor have arrived, representing more than 20% of all UK arrivals. More than three quarters of these arrivals have come through the Super Sponsor Scheme.

The Scottish Government has a Minister with Special Responsibility for Refugees from Ukraine. He is Neil Gray MSP. Scotland does not have control over immigration, that power rests with the UK Tory Government. But within its limitations (including a constrained budget) Scotland’s governments at local and national level are doing what they can to support all those who have come to our nation.

In a statement to The Scottish Parliament on Tuesday 1st of November 2022, Neil Gray said:

“As a nation, we stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine. Our communities have welcomed thousands of people fleeing the war; Scottish families have opened their homes; and our local authorities and third sector partners are working tirelessly to provide often traumatised people with the safety and support they need.”

Neil Gray went on to explain why the Scottish super sponsor scheme had been paused and the results of the review which will mean a much improved delivery of service to Ukrainians refugees but which has also resulted in being  ‘unable to resume applications to the super sponsor scheme at this time’.

Neil Gray continued:

“From the outset I have been clear Ukrainian resettlement is a national effort. Scotland’s response has demonstrated the kindness and generosity of the Scottish people.

“We can only be successful by working with local authorities, third sector partners, community groups, businesses and of course Ukrainians themselves. I would therefore like to offer my deepest appreciation and thanks to all those who are providing help and support.

“The Scottish Government remains clear Ukrainians are welcome and Scotland is their home for as long as they need it.”

The contrast in language, in the words used, by the UK’s Suella Braverman and Scotland’s Neil Gray, towards the plight of displaced people, couldn’t be more different.

Words matter.

Sculpture by Robinson RR

“No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.” Warsan Shire

Fiona Grahame

3 replies »

  1. Words matter – and we can use them well……
    I received this from ‘Freedom from Torture’……

    “Because of you, many survivors of torture are given hope of rebuilding a new life for themselves here in the UK. Meet Chimene:

    Chimene was studying to be a nurse in the Democratic Republic of Congo when she joined a student group protesting corruption. But simply standing up for her values like this is where her nightmare began.

    One night, she was taken to a windowless cell and brutally beaten. She was kept there for 1 month. She was just 19 years old.

    When Chimene fled to the UK, the harrowing memories still haunted her. But things started to look better when she began speaking to a Freedom from Torture therapist. ”With the help I get here, the memories are not as bad,” she says. ”They still come, but now it is better.”

    Chimene now has ambitions to finish her studies and become a nurse. And she has a son – who she has high hopes for. No longer living a nightmare, she’s finally able to pursue the life she dreamt of.

    Every year, thousands of women left with no choice but to flee unspeakable violence arrive in the UK hoping to build a better life for themselves.

    Thank you so much for everything you do to make stories like this possible.

    With everything going on right now, torture survivors need our support more than ever. Many survivors arrive here without a support system, feeling alone and confused at what their future might hold. They arrive in a country with a government that wants them to believe they’re not welcome here.

    But we know this isn’t the case. You can show torture survivors how welcome they are by taking 2 minutes to send a message today.

    Send your message of support

    Let’s show that someone is there for them – that someone cares.

    Fiona Crombie

    Clinical Services Manager, Glasgow

  2. PS
    The word ‘processing’ makes me wince. I realise that that is what is happening – the folk arriving need to be…processed – identified, fill in forms etc. etc. Somehow though, that word, again, smacks of them being treated like livestock, like meat. http://www.spanglefish.com/berniesblog/blog.asp?blogid=15980
    There’s something non-human about it. Something of conveyor-belts and a lack of connection with them as people.

    I realise that it is a suitable description of what is happening – which needs to happen for their sake as a much as anything – but it does make me wince every time.

    Why not call those places – immigration centres, or better still, integration centres? Words – they can be terribly weighted.

    I believe that Cruella also used the word invasion in relation to these people – she could ask a Ukrainian what that word means.

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