Molly Scott Cato, MEP for the South-West
Imogen McIntosh, Aid Box Community Hub
Mohammed Osman, refugee from Eritrea
On Saturday 23 June 2018, about 60 people turned out on a lovely evening to hear three very dynamic speakers. The first speaker was Imogen McIntosh, coordinator of Aid Box Community Hub in Redland. She described how her well-ordered life had changed overnight on seeing the now well-known photo of a toddler washed up on a beach. The emotional impact on her led to a compulsion to do something to help. She started collecting stuff – anything she thought refugees could use – and one month later found herself coordinating 30 volunteers in Dunkirk. Numbers of refugees swelled from 400 to 4000, volunteers also kept arriving, some of whom were overwhelmed and fell apart. Finally a French charity took over the work, so Imogen came home and changed Aid Box Convoy to Aid Box Community Hub, a free shop for asylum seekers and refugees in Bristol. Imogen also emphasised the importance of the love and care for refugees, so that they felt they belonged.
The second speaker was Mohammed Osman from Eritrea. He drew attention to the reasons why people feel they need to leave their countries and embark on perilous journeys into the unknown. In the case of Eritrea, he spoke of the threats, lack of freedom (physical and political), arrests and lack of safety. He told us of his journey, the smugglers, the risks, the robbers who stole their money and phones, the borders they had to circumvent, the refugee camps along the way, the times they had to go back to try again, the injuries he sustained from jumping off trucks. He travelled with companions he met along the way. When he left Eritraea, he didn’t know where he was heading – he just needed to leave. All the time he emphasised, ‘There was no choice – just need to keep going.’ Only when he reached France did he try to get to UK, as he spoke some English. His story has a happy outcome: he eventually made it across the channel – under a truck – got his refugee status in three months, and is now working for Bristol City Council’s team settling Syrian refugees.
The third speaker was Molly Scott Cato, Green Party MEP for South-West England. She was very forthright in declaring that ‘politics has failed’. She too emphasised the need to look at causes of migration, citing climate change as one under-mentioned cause – many people can no longer make a living from the land, and this leads to conflict and war in the region, resulting in refugees. The major reason why refugees leave their countries is war – Sudan, Afghanistan and Syria being prime examples. Another reason it is difficult for people to live well in their countries is that the West has stolen many resources through unfair trade rules. We now live in a global society and can no longer ignore crises in other parts of the world. Molly pointed up the need for a fair allocation of refugees for each country – while at the moment several countries have a ‘fortress’ mentality, keeping refugees out. She is working to get a more compassionate policy in Europe towards refugees.
We had time for questions, which were wide-ranging and thought-provoking. The evening finished with a list of actions everyone can take: donate to the Transport Fund for destitute asylum seekers and sign the petitions for ‘Dignity not Destitution’ and against indefinite detention. People were still talking in small groups well after the scheduled end of the meeting.
(Photo above, left to right: Imogen McIntosh, Molly Scott Cato, Caroline Beatty. Mohamed Osman and Kitty Odell)
This public meeting was organised by Redland Local Meeting through its Refugee Action Group. We wanted to set the current concern for refugees in its wider European context, so we asked 3 speakers: Mohamed to tell his personal experience of being forced to leave his home country and how he made the journey across Europe, Imogen to speak of her own response 2 years ago to pictures of Aylan Kurdi’s little body washed up on the beach and why she and so many others went to Dunkirk, and Molly to give her overview of the historical and political context of the movement of refugees across Europe and globally.
Thanks to all three speakers, and to the audience, for serious, excellent and thought provoking contributions.
The message I came away with was once again of the need to listen to the profound emotional impact both on those fleeing their countries and those responding to the emergency, and the crucial need to re-frame the ‘migrant crisis’ as a crisis of global injustice. More urgently than ever, we need to see ourselves as co-citizens on one planet, instead of members of competing nation states.
Caroline Beatty for Redland Refugee Action Group