Katherine Maxwell-Rose discovers passion and potential in the real people behind the headlines.
“Remember we are humans. We are humans.”
It was hard not to sense the frustration and pain in the voice of the young man who had crossed the Channel in a small boat speaking at an IMIX event. It was an important and timely reminder that for every stat thrown out by the media, every label used and harnessed for political gain – there is a face, there is a story, and there is potential.
The news has been relentless and harrowing this week. It started on Sunday with a far-right terrorist attack on a Dover immigration processing centre followed on Monday by the home secretary, Suella Braverman speaking in the House of Commons, referring to the people crossing the Channel in small boats as an “invasion”. Alongside this, unfolding details of the dire conditions inside the Manston centre in Kent have been emerging: hundreds of people including unaccompanied children are being forced to sleep on the floor in tents with barely any access to facilities or communication with the outside world. Some, it seems are even being abandoned in central London with no place to go, no one to call and no money.
One man who had just left the centre after living there for nearly a month said people were being treated like “animals” in a zoo.
It might not be surprising then to hear the young man’s plea to be treated like a human, and yet it is disturbing that this is something which needs to be said.
Sadly, it is a phrase which I have heard expressed by many people who have left their homeland and ended up in the UK’s brutal immigration system.
In the middle of this heavy news week, IMIX held a day for eight ambassadors ahead of International Migrants Day (IMD) in December along with IOM UK. It was an incredible group of people who originally came from Iran, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Mexico, Syria, Malaysia and Poland. They’re also from Plymouth, Glasgow, Cheshire, Barnstaple, London, Bedford and Southend-on-Sea. We listened to their stories and learnt from their wisdom. The group laughed and cried together, they connected with memories of home, their experiences of coming to the UK and what life was like for them in their new communities.
The week’s headlines were ringing in my ears as I spoke with each person, photographed their smiles and sensed their aspiration and ambition. I wish I could have put the home secretary in that room, to surround her with their passion and power – maybe then she might have realised who they really are. Human beings. Like her, like me. People in search of a better future. People with families, skills and experience, dreams for the future.
During these uncertain times when politics and the media dance around each other in a frenzy, when dangerous language is used lazily and empathy looks like it has been tossed out of the window, it is easy to feel overwhelmed, angry and exacerbated. For those of us passionate about creating a fairer and more compassionate immigration system, the issues can seem insurmountable.
But yesterday, I saw hope, I felt hope in each of the ambassador’s eyes. People who have endured and survived so much, yet still brimming with energy and purpose. They deserve better. And the majority of people in the UK when put in a room with Toby, Hamid, Kazem, Khadeja, Nadiya, Amir, Zarith and Silvia would have felt the same.
That’s why I’m not giving up. I’m fighting for change. For a system which doesn’t have to be told to treat people who move like humans because it already does it. For a society which welcomes with compassion and understanding, which isn’t afraid to treat a stranger like a friend and celebrates diversity and difference. That’s the kind of community and country I want to be a part of.