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World Refugee Week 2022 – Uniting under the banner of empathy

Last week marked World Refugee Week — a time to recognise and commemorate the strength, courage and perseverance of some of our world’s most vulnerable people. Not only is it important to acknowledge the difficulties refugees face, but also to work together to commit to a world where displaced communities can receive an education, have somewhere safe to live and have access to the work opportunities they need to support their families.

On the 50th anniversary of the Ugandan Asian Expulsion, we are celebrating half a century of transition, success and contribution from the East African community to which I belong. Furthermore, I choose today, as a proud daughter of a Ugandan Asian family, to acknowledge the recent successes of the UK’s refugee schemes. I can’t speak highly enough of my local government – Hertfordshire County Council and Hertsmere Borough Council, and their dedication and commitment to the Afghan and Ukrainian refugees who have moved safely into Hertsmere and away from danger. Seeing this work in action makes me proud of the place and country in which I live.

I have been fortunate this past year, in my capacity as Local Councillor, to spend time with Afghan and Ukrainian refugee women. These experiences have been moving and complex: there has been fun, laughter and conversations worth cherishing, but beyond this there is deep pain in the eyes and hearts of those I have met – stories of hardship, trauma, separation and death. As allies to the innocent victims of injustice, their burden is ours to carry, as well. Offering opportunities and being available to help isn’t always simple, and it can be all too easy to criticise those making the tough decisions during times like these. That being said, ‘Homes for Ukraine’ and other UK refugee schemes like the ‘Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme’ (ACRS) and the Syrian community sponsorship project before that show real commitment on the part of the UK in supporting refugees from these communities. We should be proud of the 142,500 visas issued under the Homes for Ukraine Scheme thus far, as well as the over 20,000 Afghan refugees the government has pledged to resettle over the coming years. We have the capacity to help some of the world’s most vulnerable people, and we are doing just that.

I would especially like to honour my friend, Aila, a Ukrainian refugee whose voice inspires others and gives strength. When she first landed in the UK, the first thing she told me was that she felt “so fortunate” and that she wanted “to help others”. A role model despite her displacement, hers is not a story of just suffering, but also of inspiration. This morning we both went to No.10 to share her story and lived experiences so that we can start a dialogue that makes this transition and difficult time a little easier for them. This has been a year I certainly won’t forget, and one that has given insight into how my family and community would have felt in back 1972.

Ours are difficult times.  We can’t deny that we face great injustice, but with growing challenges come boundless opportunities to shape this world in new and meaningful ways. There is no alternative but to decide to care, to decide to do our absolute best in changing our world for the better in every way possible, starting with centering the voices of those most affected in our push against disparity, inequality, oppression, and violence in all its forms. Finding strength in solidarity is what is required—uniting under a banner of empathy is our challenge.