Crimes of compassion to help refugees

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Crimes of compassion to help refugees

By Lydia Noon


Rob Lawrie and a refugee child at the Calais 'Jungle' © Lydia Noon

Human rights campaigner and volunteer Rob Lawrie speaks to Lydia Noon about people smuggling, bike riding and refugees.

What motivated you to work with refugees in France?

A few years before the big movement of people to Europe, I became angry with the UK government and with bankers gambling on our economy. I changed my life and decided to help others, not myself. I started running a soup kitchen in Leeds, Northern England and I first visited the Calais refugee camp. But when I saw Aylan Kurdi on the beach last September – an innocent child who died in the sea – I stopped everything in my life to go to the camp to help.

You tried to illegally bring four-year-old Bahar Ahmadi (an Afgani refugee from the recently-demolished Calais camp) to the UK. You said it was a ‘crime of compassion’. What do you mean?

The media used that phrase – but I like it. It was a crime but I did it from compassion – I didn’t plan it and there was no money or force. Adults are escaping terrible situations but most of them can survive. It’s much more dangerous for children. Bahar lived with her father in Calais and she had close family in the UK. When I saw her one afternoon in October 2015, I made a sudden decision – to bring her to safety. The border police caught me and took her back to Calais. She and her father are now trying to get to the UK legally but they are still in France more than year later – it is a long process.


A migrant walks past a fire. People burned the simple shelters as protest when the authorities were destroying the camp. France, 25 October, 2016. © REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

In 2015, there was a lot of support for refugees. Then, in 2016, there was the political agreement with Turkey and the beginning of Fortress Europe. What do you think will happen in 2017?

The same, unfortunately. After the Brexit vote and success of right-wing parties across Europe, not many people want to help refugees. The UK might change if, as I hope, Jeremy Corbyn (Labour leader) is stronger than many people think. He tells the truth. He’s seen the refugee camps and I think he has a real passion to help so things could change.

Are you an activist?

What does that mean? I don’t smash things and throw stones at police. I do things: I see who needs something and I get it to them. I raise money from long bike rides and holding talks around the UK and I still volunteer in France and Greece.

There will be a film about your experience - can you tell me about it?

A filmmaker who was a refugee from Kuwait lived with me for four months and came with me to Calais and Dunkirk. He gave me editing rights to the script. The film – called Mr Rob – is not a documentary so I hope people who don’t usually watch things like this will watch it.

Are there limits to humanitarian aid?

So much money has gone to refugee camps, but after a few weeks that money is lost and used. We will use the money I get from the film for direct action – to pay for lawyers to help bring unaccompanied children to the UK. I’ve learnt this year that everyone can do something.

Do you believe the borders should be open?

No, but I think we must care. It shouldn’t be different if someone is an economic immigrant or a refugee. The streets are not gold in the UK, but the UK has a responsibility to the people who live in the countries we bomb and invade.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have changed).