15th November 2018
Nick Harborne, now Director of the Refugee Support Group in Reading, (RRSG) the nearest large town to Newbold College, offered the audience in the November Diversity lecture on 6 November an insight into the seriousness of the refugee situation on their doorstep.
Anyone who has not been living with their eyes closed, will be aware that the world’s refugees have been processing across our television screens for some years now. Wars in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Sudan, Ukraine, Yemen and Syria have intensified the situation. In 2018, Mr Harborne told us, there are 68 million refugees in the world ‒ people who, according to the UN definition, have been forced to flee their country because of persecution, war or violence. He recognised that many people ask, ‘Why don’t the neighbouring countries take care of refugees?’ 25% of the population of Lebanon is now comprised of refugees. Why don’t neighbouring countries look after them? There are 2 million in Iraq, Turkey and other nearby countries.
In 2014, the British government agreed to take 20,000 refugees from Syria over 5 years. So, what is to become of these people? And what are our chances of building community with them and other traumatised people with little or no governmental recognition as they arrive here in the UK and on our Berkshire doorstep?
Harborne drew pictures of the various challenges both personal and bureaucratic faced by refugees when it comes to living in a new country, let alone integrating into it. A history of domestic violence and mental health problems, chronic illness and disability are all intensified by difficulties with speaking English. People originally from the refugee’s own country, now UK citizens, may offer limited help but they may also be struggling to cope with their own challenges. All this is exacerbated by what seems to be an inhumane lack of response of an understaffed, overwhelmed and unresponsive Home Office. Harborne pointed out that all these experiences happen in a society where the CEO of Amazon earns £28,000 in 10 seconds ‒ enough to support a legal caseworker in the RRSG for a year. Not surprisingly, local authority grants to voluntary organisations is regularly diminishing.