I’ll say it again, 1 in 113. Pretty shocking right? The numbers are unprecedented. When they talk of a refugee crisis, they ain’t kidding (I’m using the word ‘refugee’ as a catch-all word which also includes asylum seekers and others forcibly displaced through war or persecution. It doesn’t include economic migrants). Around half of those refugees are children, many of whom are alone, either separated from their parents or orphaned.
I haven’t been blogging for a while, and that’s partly because of refugees, let me explain…
I organised a conference at work in June, and I booked Gulwali Passarlay as our keynote speaker. Gulwali is author of ‘The Lightless Sky: My Journey to Safety as a Child Refugee’.
Gulwali arrived in the UK as an unaccompanied asylum seeking child at the age of 13, after having spent a perilous year, travelling 12,000 miles alone from Afghanistan. I read his book prior to meeting him, and I’m really struggling to put into words what this book did to me. It was so shocking, and moving, and heartbreaking, but also uplifting and hopeful. How he survived the journey, and made it to the UK is incredible. His strength and determination, which shines through in the book is truly humbling.
Since arriving here nine years ago he has gone on to achieve so much, a Degree in Politics from Manchester University (he barely spoke a few words of English when he arrived), he has done a TEDx talk, he carried the Olympic torch in 2012, he is an activist and campaigner for refugees, and of course the writing of his book. He has appeared widely in the press and on television; if you Google his name you’ll find plenty.
In person he is strong and charismatic, as well as warm, friendly, kind and funny. He is undoubtedly brilliant, and yet underneath it all he is you or me.
“It wasn’t my fault I wasn’t born in Europe. My home was a war zone, did that somehow make me less human?” Gulwali Passarlay, from The Lightless Sky.
Also in June we had the EU Referendum. I’m not going to say much about that right now, but suffice to say I was hugely shocked and upset by the result. And I continue to be hugely shocked and upset by the racism that the result appears to have triggered. It’s frightening. I can’t even articulate how abhorrent I find it.
The combination of those two things – Gulwali’s story, and the Referendum made me feel unable to blog for a while. I mostly write about silly trivial things on here, and a lot of the blogs I follow are fairly lighthearted, and suddenly I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to write about significant and important things, and yet I felt dwarfed by the size and importance of the issues and didn’t feel I could really do them justice. I wanted to make a difference but didn’t know how.
I now feel ready to return. I might not be able to change the world, but right now I’ll be happy if I can get a few people to read Gulwali’s book (available on Amazon and in many high street book stores!), and other personal stories like his. Those individual human stories are so important for changing attitudes. Statistics and media headlines are faceless. I fail to see how anyone could read his book, and then still come out with hateful “Send them home” type comments about refugees and asylum seekers. Maybe I’m naive, but I don’t want to lose that hope and optimism that things can change.