As part of the nationwide Being Human Festival, UEA hosted a Refugee History Q&A talk on Thursday 23 November, discussing the current status of refugees in the UK.
Members of the panel included Orwell Prize shortlisted journalist Rachel Shabi, writer Daniel Trilling, ‘Women for Refugee Women’ campaigner Marchu Girma, equality Think Tank director Omar Khan, and Norwich South MP Clive Lewis.
Mr Trilling started the event by describing the ‘refugee crisis’ as “more of a crisis of the law,” referring to the harsh government filtering system introduced by Tony Blair at the turn of the century. The UK is the only country in the European Union which lacks a time cap on the detainment of refugees.
This is reflected in the thousands of refugees held on indefinite detention in the UK, something which Lewis vowed to amend “when the bill comes to parliament”.
Mr Khan, a refugee himself, suggested that British schooling continually implements students with “false ideas about what it means to be British”. Mr Khan argued that if Britain wishes to follow Germany in welcoming large numbers of refugees, they must take inspiration from German schools’ honest retelling of their own national history. This, Mr Khan believes, would help to disprove outdated ideas of who is and isn’t British.
The event ended with the panel reflecting on the positive changes they had witnessed both in Norwich and around the country. Despite their detention, Ms Girma spoke of the hope felt by many female refugees in the UK who are “still confident they will secure a good future in this country”.
The panel encouraged the audience to get involved in charities such as Safe Passage or by attending various events designed to raise awareness on refugee issues.
Mr Trilling used a quote by the late Tony Benn to summarise the event: “Pay close attention to how your government treats refugees, as it is how they would treat you if they could get away with it.”