A letter to my MP on the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean

We’ve all seen it on the news and in the papers over the last couple of days; we’ve seen the harrowing pictures of a children lying face down in the surf. We’ve signed petitions asking the government to take in more refugees and we’ve shared the Facebook posts and retweeted images, quotes and links to newspaper stories and opinions. We’ve donated items to be sent to refugee camps and maybe too we’ve slapped down a bigoted comment on one of the above but what else can we do?

I always wonder what my government is really thinking and as with other issues I want them to know what I think. I want them to know what I and other likeminded people think and what we want them to do and so again, I’m writing to my MP. Have you? Why not? It only takes a minute so go and do it now over at writetothem.com

Here’s my letter, let me know what you think in the comments section

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Dear Mel Stride,

hello again, I wasn’t expecting to write so often during the summer recess but the crisis in the Med which has been growing over the last year and has now escalated into such a huge humanitarian disaster has made me think hard about what we should be doing as a country.

Today your colleague George Osborne said we must tackle Islamic State and the criminal gangs trafficking refugees across the Med and through Europe as though they are the real causes but this would seem to be missing the point in so many ways. The trafficking gangs are surely but a symptom of a problem. Yes, they’re criminal but if there wasn’t a huge number of displaced people fleeing their homes looking for a safer life then these gangs wouldn’t need to exist? Forgive my flippancy but it’s a case of supply and demand. We must tackle IS/Isis but we should also hold our hands up and admit that if we blame IS then we must also blame ourselves as Western nations strengthened the insurgents in the rush to overthrow the Syrian President al-Assad with no real plans as to what to fill the void with; similar to the situation in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein where IS first surfaced in fact.

While we must assist in tackling the gangs and the insurgents we cannot stand by while people die fleeing the desperate situations they found themselves in following those western interventions. As one of the world’s strongest economies we have to participate more globally and act more responsibly but right now we should be doing everything we can as a nation to help every last man, woman and child by immediately providing shelter, food and aid alongside Germany and our other European neighbours. We should be investing in rebuilding the infrastructures we helped destroy in order to create safe environments to which those displaced people might wish to return.

The Prime Minister asserts that we are at the forefront of efforts to tackle the crisis but this isn’t supported by recently published figures on the numbers welcomed by various EU countries. Was this a reference to our overseas aid budget maybe which is indeed large? I felt a little ashamed at the attitude shown by our government when compared to Germany’s stance on this. David Cameron said today that Britain would fulfil its moral responsibilities towards refugees and that we would take in thousands more but there are no specifics, no timescales and no definite figures. Is this merely a response to the outcry following the photographs of the poor child lying in the surf in Turkey? Our opt-out of the EU burden-sharing arrangements means we don’t have to stand alongside Germany and others in dealing with this but are we stepping up to the plate when needed? I hope that this really is a decision based on our actually ‘doing the right thing’ rather than simply looking to be doing it.

It looks likely that the issue of the UK taking in more refugees will at least be discussed in parliament due to a petition or two gathering the necessary signatures for such discussion. Will that lead to a vote on the matter? Too early to say and the situation (and our stance) may change again before that but maybe writing to you and making my feelings known is useful for you in gauging the opinions of the electorate if a vote of some kind is to take place. I presume I’m not the only constituent doing so.

Earlier in the year at the hustings in Moretonhampstead just a couple of weeks before the General Election, the final question of a lively evening was, “we’re a small island, when should we consider it full?” While you were heckled by some elements of the crowd I noted that you referred to the crisis in the Mediterranean, that we should be helping those that needed help and not standing by, stressing the need for more international aid rather than cutting it. I of course understand your position as a whip and that occasionally you might be required to vote and mandate other MPs’ voting on matters which might not necessarily be in line your own personal beliefs but maybe this is something where simple humanity trumps party politics and rhetoric. We can only hope.

I believe that with unified cross-party statement of intent and positive positioning of the issue in the media and the public eye we can stand as an example to other countries and emerge a stronger, healthier nation because of it.

All the best Mel, a couple more days and then back to Westminster next week!

Yours sincerely,

Rich Mills

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We need to talk about the word “swarm,” Dave

Earlier today, the Prime Minister used the word “swarm” when describing the many men, women and children trying to gain entry to Europe and ultimately the UK from Northern Africa. 

Dave has been criticised by many for dehumanising the plight of these people; people desperate to escape regimes and conditions far worse than we can imagine, conditions bad enough to risk death crossing the Mediterranean in a dinghy or being crushed beneath a goods lorry at Calais. 

Dave was even criticised by little-Englander Nigel Farage although this was somewhat ironic given that Nigel had used the same word himself earlier this morning in an interview. Nige also gave good anecdote as he told of a migrant trying the back door of his car on a return trip which illustrates just how bad things have got. I mean, we have royally fucked up some countries with our gung-ho foreign policy but to see a car journey with Enoch Farage as a means to a better life? Brutal.

Anyway, I’m not focusing on our “blow it up without consequences” approach to international intervention, what I’d like to look at is quite simple and aimed at those who have come out in support of Cameron and his choice of language. My point is this:

If it is okay to describe this group of people in need as a “swarm” then would it also be okay to use it to describe disabled folk  wanting support from the government? Would it have been okay to describe the tourists waiting to return from Tunisia following the recent attrocity as a “swarm”? What about people demanding access to routine procedures which are now being withheld because of austerity related cuts? Are there enough of them to refer to them as a “swarm”?

No, of course not, that’s ridiculous and so is this language being used to describe anything other than a huge number of insects or perhaps birds or fish. “Large numbers of people” is fine; a term which dehumanises the situation, which stops us thinking of the families and children as individual people needing real help is not. 

Cameron knew what he was saying too. His exact phrase was, “You have got a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean, seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain because Britain has got jobs, it’s got a growing economy, it’s an incredible place to live.” He dressed his comments in the rhetoric of UKIP & the far right, the xenophobic and the inward facing, little better than “bloody foreigners coming over here to take your jobs, wives and benefits.”

The word “swarm” to describe people is not okay. To defend it, to shout about “leftie” sensibilities or to quote a dictionary definition as justification is simply inexcusable.