A year ago, writes Steve Ballinger, people across Britain and the world were shocked by an image of the lifeless body of a tiny young toddler being carried from the sea. His name was Aylan Kurdi and his story moved over 100,000 people in the UK to take to the streets, urging our Government to step up and do its bit for refugees like Aylan, fleeing wars and tyrannies around the world.
The Government responded, agreeing to resettle 20,000 vulnerable Syrian refugees in Britain. British people responded too, organising ‘Refugees Welcome’ committees in towns and cities across the country, sending money, clothes and food to help those arriving by sea to Greece.
You can read the touching story of one family’s arrival and the welcome they received in Aberystwth, in this piece by Tom Rowley for the Daily Telegraph.
Britain has a long tradition of offering sanctuary to the refugees. When Belgian refugees arrived in 1914, fleeing the advancing German Army, 2,500 local welcome committees were set up to help the new arrivals. One hundred years on, there is still broad support for protecting refugees – it is part of who we are and something of which we can all be proud.
The tentative ceasefire in Syria has offered the faintest glimmer of hope for the country, but thousands of families are still in need of protection, from Syria and other war-torn or repressive countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Eritrea. Next week, at summits organised by the UN and the US, world leaders will meet and seek to agree a response.
Tomorrow, Saturday 17 September, Britons are on the march again to show that we remain a country that welcomes refugees in need of protection. Starting on London’s Park Lane at 12.30 , they will march to Parliament Square where politicians, faith leaders, celebrities and refugees themselves will address the crowd. More info here.
So far only a few thousand of the promised 20,000 Syrians have found a place of safety in the UK. We need to ensure that Britain continues to do its bit, that we will offer people a place of safety when they have been forced to flee, and that we will help those settled here to make a new life for themselves and become part of our society.