The unprecedented levels of migration across the Mediterranean since 2015 with the catastrophic death toll was one of key talking points at the Refugee Crisis forum in London. Stories from the Frontline held at Initiatives of Change headquarters on 31 October brought together senior political leaders, activists, volunteers and many other concerned parties who listened to the stories of how ordinary people have taken action to do the most extraordinary acts of bravery, courage and kindness in tackling this global crisis.
The evening's event was a joint venture with the International Centre for Eritrean Refugees and Asylum Seekers (ICERAS) where the aim of conference was to offer space for open dialogue in bringing refugee stories from the frontline. Amina Khalid, Programme Manager for Sustainable Communities for Initiatives of Change and Lul Seyoum for ICERAS facilitated two independent panels.
Lord Dubs, a keynote speaker with the other invited panelists led a lively debate in presenting the issues of the desperate unaccompanied children caught up in the troubles of the Jungle Calais in France. The question of immigration currently vexing European policy makers and politicians was a key discussion point for all. Lord Dubs expressed his frustrations about the lack of information offered to child refugees about their rights.
Sakira Suzia, police constable with London Metropolitan Police and community volunteer, described the most harrowing and moving account of receiving refugees in Lesbos, Greece. Sakira highlighted the reason why so many are drowning is because the so-called ‘life jackets’ given to them on the boats are made out of foam. Water is absorbed, pulling people into the sea.
Elizabeth Jones candidate for the UKIP leadership and a family solicitor expressed the viewpoint that poverty is at the root to migration crisis, fuelled by corruption and poor governance. She hoped countries like Syria and Afghanistan could be self sufficient through international trade and foreign aid could be ‘dismantled’.
Other speakers and highlights of the evening's proceedings include:
Don Flynn, Director of Migrants' Rights Network, shared his view that civil society should be taking an active role on migration, debating with policy makers and the government for the rights of migrants and refugees. He wants to create opportunities for people coming to the UK to share their experiences. Civil society needs to go ‘toe to toe’ with policy makers, journalists, and others in a ‘hope to change the tide of public opinion for the better’.
Maeve McClenaghan, a freelance investigative journalist, has for the past two years been exploring how the UK treats unaccompanied asylum seeking children and has more recently moved on to look at the experiences of trafficking victims. She followed stories of unaccompanied Afghan children who have come to the UK fleeing war and abuse only to be forced to leave as soon as they reach 18.
Leila Segal, Founder of Voice of Freedom, works with women who have escaped trafficking and torture, bringing the voices of the enslaved to the public. She shared with the audience the horrific experiences of trafficked women, of the abuse, rape and torture they face on a daily basis.
Anwar Kawadri, a passionate Syrian film Producer/Director/Writer voiced his concerns about the number of children drowning in the Mediterranean sea. He feels that the solution lies with multinational companies who need to work with the Syrian government to invest in people and to stop the war. He warned that these children who have been abandoned by the global community, could turn to extremism in the future.
Cllr Micheline Safi Ngongo, a refugee from Congo, a Labour councillor, and founder of LIGHT Project International, spoke about her motivation to get into politics - changing the system to recognise refugee children as humans, not numbers.