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On Wednesday, Priti Patel stated in parliament that people crossing the Channel “are not genuine asylum seekers” and are only making the journey to live in UK hotels.
It’s not the first time the home secretary has made harmful comments about refugees and asylum seekers. But I believe this comment is by far the worst to date – and Patel seems to have forgotten why people are claiming asylum.
No one wants to leave their family, friends and home to travel through dangerous waters to live in a hotel room. Unfortunately, they haven’t been left with many choices when they can no longer identify the place they used to call home.
I work with refugees: many have seen loved ones killed. At the same time, others pray that theirs are still alive. It angers me to think that someone with so much power would make such comments.
Britain has been involved in some of the disasters in many of the war-torn countries refugees are coming from; such as the Iraq War in 2003 – we all remember the claim that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction”. It was devastating to find out that the government had made a mistake, and that Britain’s involvement in Iraq had cost millions of people their lives and homes. Our government repeated the same tactics in Afghanistan years later.
Our MPs are forgetting that their actions have consequences – and the consequences affect the people of those nations they helped ruin.
Britain must provide refuge for asylum seekers, and provide a safe place for them to rebuild their lives. Our government owes it to them – after all, some of the same members of government played a significant role in why many of them may never get to return home.
Asylum seekers and refugees sacrifice their lives to get to safety. They travel through dangerous conditions and are often exploited by smugglers. Many of them have lost their families during their journey to the UK. The saddest part of it is that many asylum seekers have buried their loved ones in foreign lands; while others depart on their journeys to safety.
The home secretary doesn’t appear to me to have any sympathy for them – and has never experienced what they have. She has never had to leave a place she called “home” to find safety. She is comfortable in a country that hasn’t faced war in 80 years.
Priti Patel’s harmful comments can have a significant impact on the way refugees and asylum seekers are treated in the UK.
For starters, some British citizens believe that asylum seekers only want to live in the UK because of the benefits system. These accusations are not true – I work with many refugees and asylum seekers; many of whom used to be doctors, nurses or accountants before they had to flee their home countries.
However, when they arrive in the UK, they can no longer use their qualifications because they are seen as undocumented migrants – or their capabilities aren’t acknowledged.
In recent years, we have seen an increase in hate crimes against refugees. I believe these feelings are stirred by hostility from the government and certain sections of the media – and Patel’s latest comments will not help. Many asylum seekers I have worked with have expressed how they feel many people see them as a threat to Britain.
So, before Patel opens her mouth to make such divisive comments about asylum seekers again, she should remember that asylum seekers only seek refuge in the UK because they have nowhere else to call home.
Chrissie Okorie is a poet, public speaker and journalist – she works for the Maokwo art organisation and helps run workshops and events for refugee week