Tsegazghi Michael writes for World Refugee Week
OUR COMMUNITIES ARE STRONGER WHEN WE WELCOME REFUGEES
Written by Tsegazghi Michael, a leader from Citizens UK Birmingham, for World Refugee Week 2021.
For World Refugee Week, I would like to share my experiences of how communities can flourish when we work together and find common ground with people from all backgrounds.
I fled from human rights abuses in Eritrea 13 years ago. Back home I lived under a totalitarian government, and even though I worked as a Judge in a position of power, one day I was arbitrarily imprisoned with no date for release.
I risked my life to escape and travel to the UK to seek refuge. At the time, I did not have any expectations on whether I would be treated well or badly when I arrived: I was simply seeking safety for my life.
But when I settled in Birmingham, not only did I find the safety I needed, but I also found a warm and welcoming community. I joined a Church and people there did not see me as different or want to know where I was from—they simply accepted me as a fellow human being. I also became a member of Citizens UK, which gave me the platform to raise awareness and recognition of the plight of my fellow Eritreans.
Within Citizens UK, people with a variety of different backgrounds, beliefs and religions all sit together in the same meetings to work together for social justice. Rather than seeing each other as separate groups, we work as a team: knowing that by working together we can make the world a stronger and more just place.
Here, I have found unity and support through community. When I first met Saeed Haque, Citizens UK Lead Organiser in Birmingham, we talked about the history of when followers of Prophet Muhammad sought sanctuary from persecution in 615 A.D. and fled to Abyssinia, modern-day Ethiopia and Eritrea. This story demonstrated that humanity is all connected and migration has always been a part of the human experience. In a powerful moment for me that day, a retired elder Imam stood up to hug me.
But sadly, I find that the media and politicians too often send messages that divide us. For me, they are creating their own stories to separate us, to sensationalise the negatives, and to falsely scapegoat refugees for society’s problems. Sadly, this rhetoric is often reflected in policy—the UK Government is now proposing asylum plans which go against international human rights laws and make it harder for refugees to be settled in the UK.
When I see these narratives, I am struck by how this does not reflect my experiences. When I am out in my community, or in a cafe or a pub, the majority of people are welcoming, friendly and positive: I just see ordinary people wanting to live peacefully. Contrary to the negative sentiments we often see, I believe that most people support human rights and providing sanctuary to refugees—because they understand that everyone deserves a good quality of life and to live in safety.
Whilst I would like all of society, including the media and politicians, to join us in recognising and celebrating how refugees can strengthen communities, I want refugees to be welcomed unconditionally, regardless of what value we can bring—but simply because it’s the right and humane thing to do.
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