Worlds of Education

We only protect ourselves by protecting others

published 17 December 2021 updated 17 December 2021
written by:

It brings such shame on the UK Government that in November 2021, 27 people including a pregnant woman, drowned in utterly miserable and terrifying circumstances just a few miles from being able to claim asylum. Safe legal routes to claim asylum have been increasingly restricted. Airlines are fined if they fly people from the areas where most refugees are fleeing - unless they have all documents in place.

Many educators are working with refugee children in their schools - and doing everything they can to help them to feel safe. Many union activists are volunteering in other ways - for the Charity "Care4Calais", for example.

But instead of a humane and sympathetic response, our government reacts with political dart-throwing and a focus on more restriction rather than more humanity. The new nationality and borders bill seems designed to increase the hostile environment for migrants and refugees with powers to deport people while claims are being assessed and the creation of a new temporary and uncertain status for refugees. It also exempts the government from giving notice to deprive a person of citizenship. These draconian powers undermine the basis of the Human Rights Act and all our civil liberties.

Britain helped to establish the UN Convention on refugees in 1951 and since that time the principles of a fair hearing on UK soil have been upheld by successive governments. Instead of political posturing, this government and in particular the Home Secretary should be ensuring that people can travel safely to Britain to get that fair hearing and claim asylum.

We have a right to be angry and we should be mobilising to ensure that a safer and more humane pathway is possible. We must ask ourselves - what future do we want for our children? Do we want armed guards at our borders, while people drown? Do we want to encourage fear of those seeking sanctuary? Do we want children to be frightened of refugees? Do we want to see the problem as ‘somewhere else’, as something that happens to others?

Or do we want a more equal world where we treat one another as brother and sister? One in which our children respect and embrace humanity and welcome refugees to our schools and communities.

“Educators and their unions have vital roles to play in supporting refugees, opposing racism, and educating about the causes of so many refugee movements.”

Refugees aren’t going away, just as Covid isn’t going away, just as the Climate Emergency isn’t going away. These issues are linked by the power and privilege of European countries who can, and often do, pull up the proverbial drawbridge, under the pretence of self-protection. It is time to take urgent action on both. To protect ourselves we must be prepared to protect all.

The NEU agrees with the South African and India Governments that there needs to be a waiver for vaccine patents and a transfer of necessary technology. We agree with James Meadway that it is vital we surmount proprietary rights to vaccines, to reach beyond the vaccine-rich countries of the global north such as those concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa:

“The correct, egalitarian response is to demand the removal of intellectual property protections on vaccines, and the commitment of serious resources to their production and distribution across the less developed world. Our joint commitment should be to justice, and to freedom, both universally applied.” [1]

We also join with EI in calling for much more urgent action to address the climate emergency and to promote high quality climate education. Educators and their unions have vital roles to play in supporting refugees, opposing racism, and educating about the causes of so many refugee movements.

Britain may be an island geologically speaking but it has world-wide political connections and global historical endeavours which include involvement in many of the countries from which asylum seekers come. This is not to attribute blame but to illustrate that asylum seekers are not ‘others’. They are bound to our own connections. They are people like us. They are us.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.