I tend to shy away from political posts but in the run up to the forthcoming election and in the light of some of UKIP’s ridiculous statements and the worrying amount of support they are garnering, I felt moved to write something. It’s easy to spout out (misinterpreted or false!) statistics confidently and start shouting about our rights but what UKIP do is completely gloss over the fact that the anonymous ‘them’ that are apparently sponging off our welfare system and taking our jobs are people too. People who deserve a roof over their head, food and clean water and to live without having to fear for their lives.
A good friend of mine has spent several years travelling around Europe and met people whose stories are nothing less than heartbreaking. One particular story that has stuck with me is of a 5 year old girl and her family whose fate is still unknown. They are originally from Afghanistan and crossed the border into Iran and made their way to Greece where they are living in a squat or temporary accommodation. Greece offers no help to illegal immigrants; obviously the economical crisis there means they are struggling to even support their own citizens but the rise of the neo-nazi far right party Golden Dawn means that life for illegal immigrants is full of fear and discrimination (sometimes violent). This family (6 children and 1 on the way) have been surviving on scavenging through bins and handouts from political activists and the few charities that are still operating in Greece. A year or so ago they made the unimaginably tough decision to scrape some money together to pay smugglers to take one of their older sons to Germany. They did this because they knew that once in Germany the system there would authorise papers to bring the rest of the family and they might finally be able to start a life together, able to work, go to school and live freely.
However, the authorities in Greece are horrendously slow in processing such requests and the family were struggling to feed them all so when they heard that a young relative and his friend were planning to cross Europe to Sweden they asked them to take their 5 year old daughter with them. I’d like to pause to put this into perspective. So desperate were they that they asked 2 adolescents (16 and 17) to take their young daughter illegally across several countries as this was the best option for the survival of the whole family. I cannot begin to fathom how hard this decision must have been to make, when I look at Sophia (currently flinging herself around the room), I just cannot imagine having to send her into an incredibly dangerous and unknown situation as the best way to ensure the families survival. To say goodbye and know that you wouldn’t hear from her or the people she’s with for months, to have no way of knowing if she was safe, if she was even still alive. And for this still to be the best option. It makes me feel sick.
The boys agreed and walked to Macedonia (carrying the girl when she got tired, look at a map…it’s an incredibly long way. This would have taken days, if not weeks) before boarding a bus to the Serbian border. They got stopped and put in a police cell for a while before being taken back. They boarded a train to try again and were stopped by another police officer but appealed to his better side and he turned a blind eye due to the presence of the girl with them. However, despite getting across the border they were caught and put in a detention camp. They managed to escape and continued on their journey before trying to cross into Croatia. They were stopped again and returned to Serbia where eventually they decided that the best course of action was to use what little money they had to pay smugglers to get them into Croatia. After a fairly terrifying night in a forest they walked across the border through the night but were then caught again and transferred into a detention camp in Hungary. As they counted as minors they managed to run away and claim asylum (although I think Hungary are fairly merciless to refugees so it was of little relief). They were sheltered for a few nights by activists and then caught a train to Frankfurt where miraculously they managed to arrive unnoticed. They were met at the station by activists who then took them and looked after them.
The girl has now been reunited with her brother in the German foster system and they are awaiting the arrival of her parents and siblings and the boys have been granted a temporary permit until they are 18. But it’s not a happy ending at all. At 18 the boys are likely to be deported to Afghanistan where neither of them have lived since they were 4 and where they know barely anyone. They will fight deportation but who knows if they’ll be successful. They are stranded, residents of nowhere, wanted nowhere, being pushed from pillar to post with support only from a handful of activists who although passionate, are limited by their resources.
The rise of parties like Golden Dawn, UKIP and the BNP are making situations like this more and more commonplace. These families are by no means alone in their dilemma. And their crime? They are guilty of simply wanting to live without fear for their lives, where starvation isn’t a constant threat, where they can sleep with a roof over their heads and clean water in their taps. Things we take for granted, as given. They can’t help where they were born but we can help what happens to them now.
I’m well aware that this story sounds absolutely unbelievable. It sounds fabricated and ranty. But it’s not. This is is the life of millions of people every day, having to make agonising decisions about their children, having to fight tooth and nail for survival, for a home, for education, for food and water, for safety.
My friend has provided me with the links to some websites if you’re interested in finding out more or supporting people like the family I’ve written about. Right to Remain is a UK based human rights organisation that provide information, advice and support about remaining in the UK and Welcome to Europe provides independent information for refugees arriving in Europe about the situation they can expect to face in each country. Clandestina is a blog which talks about the situation in Greece for migrants including details of unreported deaths that occur at their borders. Finally, No Borders might be of interest as well for further reading and research on the issue.
Take from this post what you will but if you were considering voting UKIP on Thursday, especially if you were doing so as a protest vote, I urge you to stop and reconsider. Life for millions of refugees is already unbelievably tough, please don’t be one of the people that makes it even worse. I am just as frustrated by the main three’s failings as you. They’ve dominated the political landscape in the UK for far too long. But UKIP aren’t the answer. Vote Green, vote for a local independent, there are other options. Please remember that. And above all, remember that the nameless ‘them’ that the right wing parties refer to are not just numbers, but people too.