I like to listen to friends, to ordinary people, to hear what they say and learn from it. They aren’t very well to do, many are pensioners who, it might be thought, are solid Conservative voters. They have worked all their lives, helped their children and grandchildren get started in life and often, are Brexit supporters.
Refugees in WWII
Their parents lived and fought through the Second World War. Many of them went through horrific experiences as they freed concentration camp survivors and saw what had been done by Nazi soldiers. Others had been in the Far East and experienced the cruelty of POW camps and seen how women and children had been treated by Japanese soldiers.
I think of my dad, captured in the Western Desert, ending up in Stalag 8B, unit Auschwitz 5. He was so badly injured by Nazi guards that he was repatriated in 1944. He used to have a few pints each night to help him sleep. Sometimes we’d ask him about his experience and he would tell us what he saw; the smoke and smell from the camp and British soldiers sharing their meagre rations with those who had nothing.
As children, they remember the bombing, friends being killed, homes being destroyed. Then, they watched newsreels and television programmes that told the story of ordinary people, the war and how it affected them and of the soldiers, sailors, airmen and resistance fighters who fought evil and won.
They remember the thousands of European refugees Britain welcomed as they fled persecution.
They know too the role that Sir Winston Churchill had in creating the European Convention On Human Rights (ECHR), a convention that protects all of us; yes, even us, here in the United Kingdom too.
Now what is the reaction of these friends to the current wave of asylum seekers trying to reach Europe and the UK? They see babies, children, young girls and boys, whose parents want them to have a better, safer life, leave their homes and head to us. They see some dying, some drowning, many deserted by those they trusted, the criminals who have exploited them.
These people want and need help. They don’t want to leave their homeland but have to flee. Imagine how it must be for the parents and grandparents. It must be dreadful, not knowing if they will ever see their son or daughter alive again. I can’t conceive how painful that must be. And I’m not alone!
Chatting to these friends as well as to other local people, they have all witnessed from the television news and the papers what can happen. A child lying dead on a beach; boats sinking, with no rescue for those on board and people arriving with just the clothes they stand up in to see them through.
That’s the reality.
And then Mr Lee Anderson, MP and Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party, made a comment that went viral. Newspapers, television, radio and social media reported on his:
“If they don’t like barges they should f*** off back to France”!
Mr Anderson may have thought he was reflecting British public opinion. How wrong he was! Ordinary people have been shocked and upset by the comment and by those MPs and Ministers who have supported it.
They know that the problem we have is an immigration system that doesn’t work and that the government can’t or won’t sort it out. There is a belief that by blaming those most in need, the government will win through.
But unfortunately for Mr Anderson MP and his supporters, the British people do care. They care about those who are escaping war, hunger, violence and persecution.
That’s who we are, not Mr Anderson’s idea of what it is to be British.
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