Why we must not forget the plight of refugees

Juliette Bretan 16 September 2017

With so much happening in current affairs, (Trump, missiles, floods), it appears both concern and conversation about refugees has faded far into the background. We know refugees are people forced to leave their country due to war or natural disaster and that they seek asylum, protection granted by the state. However, we know very little about this process and the difficulties people face when seeking asylum.

With a year of cuts and changes to immigration rules, Home Office Caseworkers and Legal Aid Caseworkers, along with many others in the public sector, feel the strain of being without adequate resources or staffing; but, it’s those seeking asylum that suffer the most. Many refugees wait years to be granted asylum and having risked their lives (some, having experienced torture or rape) are left in detention centres only to be put on a return flight. The recent government statics, for the year ending June 2017, revealed that, of the 38,517 asylum applications received by the UK in 2016, only 9,933 were accepted. This becomes a desperately shocking statistic when we consider that, of Austria’s 39,860 applications, 30, 370 were successful.

Over 5 million have fled Syria. Recently, the number fleeing South Sudan reached 1 million. Even more recently, abuse claims against G4S staff from Brook House, an immigration centre near Gatwick Airport, reached the headlines. It was reported that officers were filmed, ‘mocking, abusing and even assaulting detainees.’ Unlike most European countries, there is no limit to the amount of time a person can be detained in the UK. As MP Stuart McDonald commented, some of the most vulnerable people imaginable are “simply being detained for the convenience of the Home Office, for an unlimited time, without committing any crime.”

It’s interesting that political dramas like The State, documentaries like The Refugee Diaries and the recent photography exhibition, MIGRATE, which captured journeys of refugees, have gained such popularity. Why is it that we’re willing to engage with refugees as a concept rather than an aspect of our reality? I entirely believe in the power and importance of creative mediums: film, poetry, photography, these are some of the most influential avenues through which we can communicate ideas and discuss significant issues. However, shouldn’t we be concerned by our eagerness to consume the drama? There seems to be an uncomfortably large gap between our interest in refugees’ lives, their stories and their struggles, and our willingness to grant asylum, share our homes and live alongside them.