Carys Mair Thomas outlines why Wales should do more to take in refugees.
Rich countries across the world have resettled only a tiny fraction of the five million Syrian refugees forced to flee unimaginable terror and violence. As part of the United Kingdom, Wales falls among those rich countries.
Many of us will find this description difficult to fathom, when one in four of us face our own daily struggle to put food on the table. Why resettle refugees when a job in today’s Wales is no guarantee that you’ll keep the wolf from the door yourself? Surely Wales has enough to contend with?
These are serious questions. Poverty levels in Wales have remained unchanged for a decade and we know food bank usage is disproportionately high here, compared to other regions across the UK. So why welcome more people with open arms?
There is both an economic and moral argument to be made.
But, first, let’s look at the numbers. Here in Wales, Oxfam Cymru is calling for the resettlement of approximately 724 vulnerable people by the end of this year. This is based on Oxfam’s Fair Share analysis, which takes into account the economic performance of each rich country that has signed the UN Refugee Convention (UNHCR). So this is not a number fashioned out of thin air, but based on the UK’s Gross National Income. Consequently, the UK should resettle 23,982 people by the end of this year, with further calculations revealing Wales’s Fair Share to be 724 people – fewer than 10 families per local authority.
Last year, all 22 local authorities in Wales pledged to welcome vulnerable families from Syria to their communities, yet official figures confirm only five have done so, with 78 people arriving in Wales between October 2015 and March 2016.
Why take action? Ultimately, they have a lot to offer.
Refugees arriving here will be able to contribute to society, as has been proven time and again, throughout history. The people of Syria are known to be skilled and highly trained, and wherever they settle, they are likely to make a huge contribution to the economy until it is safe for them to return home.
Refugees do not choose to be refugees. They’re just like you and me: with drive and ambition, with hopes and dreams. To be left to languish in refugee camps in Syria and neighbouring Lebanon and Jordan, robs us all of their full potential. Consider Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs: the son of a Syrian immigrant. How different would our lives be without his vast contribution?
Similarly, others like Bob Marley and Salvador Dali contributed to the arts and culture of their new homes. In September, Cardiff will be transformed into a ‘City of the Unexpected’ to celebrate the centenary of ‘one of its most well-known sons’. Roald Dahl was born to Norwegian parents and lived most of his life in England, and yet we have fully embraced him as one of our own, a real Welshman.
Norway, with a population of just over five million, has far exceeded expectations and resettled 260% of its Fair Share: 3,455 Syrian refugees. If one of the world’s ‘happiest’ countries, known for its strong economy sees the benefit to welcoming Syrian refugees, then why shouldn’t we?
Alongside all of this lies a moral imperative.
Take a moment to consider the circumstances facing these families. Their homes, schools and hospitals have been bombed beyond all recognition. They have seen family killed in horrific chemical attacks. They don’t want to leave their home, but if they stay they will almost certainly die.
What would you do? Would you stay or would you gather your family and run? If you were in a refugee camp, how would you feel watching your children grow up with no books and no education? Would you stay there or would you dream of escape? Would you look to start over elsewhere?
Most of the 4 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt live in refugee camps and see no prospect of returning home in the near future. Worldwide, more than 5,400 people lost their lives during 2015 making treacherous journeys, with many more deaths likely to have gone unrecorded. If countries like Wales participate in the established resettlement schemes, families will be brought directly from the camps, and won’t have to venture on life-threatening journeys.
Let’s meet our fair share. Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because refugees are also ordinary and extraordinary people, brimming with untapped potential that is likely to be of huge benefit to both Wales and the world.