Refugees are welcome here!

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Refugees are welcome here!


‘Refugees are welcome here,’ about 1,000 people shouted in Oxford, Britain. by Vanessa Baird

Across Europe people now want to help refugees more. Maybe this will make us have better border rules? by Vanessa Baird

They expected 50-80 people at the meeting in Oxford. But about 1,000 people came, with banners, shouting: ‘Refugees are welcome here.’

This was one of the first cities in Britain to have a meeting like this. People think the UK has no heart because they have not offered to take many of the thousands of desperate people escaping war and poverty.

But, like many millions of people in Europe, people in Oxford were saying: ‘We are humans; we are not the government.’

It was a clear message to Prime Minister David Cameron: do the right thing. Think again. Saving lives is the most important thing.


And people are taking control. One person asked the crowd: ‘How many of you are ready to welcome and help refugees here?’ Many people put up their hands. ‘How many of you can take a refugee into your home for a time?’ Many people put their hands up.

The Labour local MP, Andrew Smith, sent a message that more people had contacted him about this topic in the last few days than on any other topic, ever.

1,800 people have offered help in 2 days to Home for Good;;, an agency that helps foster migrant children.

In the middle of last week, many people changed their opinion. This was because of the picture in the news of Syrian 3-year-old Aylan Al Kurdi, dead on a beach in Turkey. This picture that may be as important as the picture of a screaming girl running away from a bombed village in the 1960s US war in Vietnam.

David Cameron only wanted to bring very few Syrian refugees to Britain. But this idea started to look wrong. Even the rightwing newspapers who thought Cameron was right before changed their minds.

Germany, Austria and Sweden have taken in thousands of refugees from Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries. It is putting countries like Britain and Canada to shame. This weekend many people in Munich welcomed more than 10,000 refugees with cheers and sweets. The refugees were stuck for several days in Hungary. Also, many German people are taking refugees into their own homes.

Many people desperately need help. But the British government will not discuss with the European Union (EU) this week a plan to take 120,000 Syrians, Iraqis and Eritreans who have already entered the EU. Britain is not taking part. They offered to take only ‘a few thousand more’.

But many people across Europe have no more patience with the politicians and officials, who think votes are more important than migrants dying in the Mediterranean.


This week the EU will discuss how many refugees to take. They will put pressure on countries that are not taking their share. It would be helpful to have an organized European plan to save lives and to offer refuge. But if they can’t agree, we still need to save lives. One refugee said: ‘Where is human rights? Where is the UN?’ It is charities like Médecins Sans Frontières and many much smaller ones that have been leading the rescue of refugees.

This is people power. People are doing what their governments and international organizations should be doing, but are not. The challenge is to keep the humanity. We must get more people into a big tent of compassion, to save lives and to develop the discussion.

In recent years there has been more racism and hatred of immigrants. New Internationalist has suggested an ‘open borders’ approach to migration. This seems idealistic.

But the policy that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is using now is ‘open borders’ for refugees. She is doing this because the closed borders policy did not work in the real world of war, poverty and more inequality.

We have a refugee crisis because of war and the globalization of neoliberal economics. These have increased inequality, inside and between countries. These are very big problems. We cannot solve these by building fences or letting people die at sea. Maybe we won’t solve the problems by opening borders in the short term. But migration will be more organized, as we see in countries like Sweden, not so desperate and dangerous. We will save lives; compassion and humanity will have a chance to win.

And as we reach out our hands to help, maybe we will become human again - and welcome the refugees.

Vanessa Baird is a New Internationalist co-editor. See also this issue:

  • Issue 469 - January / February 2014 - "Why are we locking up migrants?"

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