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LucyGransnet (GNHQ) Thu 17-Nov-16 10:42:52

The wrong kind of refugee?

In recent years, the world has witnessed a refugee crisis that has forced more than a million men, women and children to flee the brutal violence in their own countries. Yet despite the life-threatening situations they face, these refugees (including children) have often been met with a degree of suspicion and fear in the nations they have escaped to.

Author Barbara Fox, whose own mother was evacuated from inner-city Newcastle as a child, wonders what the difference between Britain's long-ago children and today's refugees is?

Barbara Fox

The wrong kind of refugee?

Posted on: Thu 17-Nov-16 10:42:52

(508 comments )

Lead photo

Are today's refugees really any different?

When I read a headline recently about the outrage of a 'picturesque' village to which 70 'child migrants' were to be sent, I was reminded of another time in our history when places in the countryside were obliged to welcome strangers into their midst.

Back in 1940 when she was six years old, my mother, Gwenda, and her older brother, Doug, were among the hundreds of thousands of children who left their inner-city homes and were evacuated to the countryside to escape the German bombs.

Gwenda's main memory of her journey from Newcastle to the Lake District centres round the banana she was given to eat by her mother – the last she was to see for several years. A teacher ordered the children to sit on their bags, and consequently, when Gwenda came to unpack later, she found squashed banana over all her belongings.

On arrival in the pretty village of Bampton they were lined up in the church hall while the villagers came to choose who they wanted. Yes, it does seem unbelievable that that was how the evacuees were billeted to their families! You might imagine that Gwenda and Doug – clean, nicely dressed children - would have been snapped up first (they would surely be the refugees that no one would protest about today!). But actually, that was not the case. Gwenda was the youngest child there as she was tagging along with Doug and his class of nine-year-olds - their mother had insisted that the pair should not be separated. Consequently, the locals were expecting older children, and someone of Gwenda's size probably didn't look very useful in this farming community.

Were these home-grown children that our rural communities welcomed back then really so different from the oft-maligned refugee children today?


Gwenda and Doug were the only children left when the wife of the village headmaster arrived. As the mother of two sons, she had to be persuaded to take a girl. However, she relented, and so the children went home with her. They would spend three happy years living in the schoolhouse and Gwenda would keep in touch with the couple she called 'Aunty' and 'Uncle' for the rest of their lives.

The following year, in more desperate circumstances, Bampton opened its doors to another influx of children, this time from the shipbuilding town of Barrow-in-Furness.

Undoubtedly thousands of lives were saved by this evacuation of the nation's children, and indeed, Gwenda and Doug's own street in Newcastle was bombed.

Britain also welcomed refugees from Europe, including thousands of Jewish children who might otherwise have perished.

Were these home-grown children that our rural communities welcomed back then really so different from the oft-maligned refugee children today? I would go so far as to say that the inner-city children who turned up in Bampton were often just as alien to their rural hosts as the foreign newcomers seem to be to the 'picturesque' village dwellers. But equally, both could teach something to the other.

Those harking back to 'when Britain was great' perhaps forget that it was also characterised by our opening our doors to those in need.

When the War Is Over by Barbara Fox, the story of Gwenda’s wartime evacuation, is published by Sphere and is available from Amazon.

By Barbara Fox

Twitter: @Gransnet

Nelliemoser Thu 17-Nov-16 11:08:19

My former next door neighbour in London and her sister were evacuated off to the Welsh valleys. They really landed on their feet with a lovely childless Welsh couple who became surrogate grand parents. My neighbours elderly mother was included in this happy group. They used to still visit each other regularly into the 1980s. Not all children were so lucky.

TriciaF Thu 17-Nov-16 11:36:23

We lived in a east coast port town, and my Mum and I were evacuated together to the country for a while. I can't remember much about it. Later during the war I joined my cousins from Newcastle, who were evacuated to Rothbury. I remember that, we started school there.

norose4 Thu 17-Nov-16 16:26:13

I think you have raised an interesting social point Lucygransnet, if we are to believe the news & headlines, I would say yes for a lot of people there does seem to be !
' The wrong sort of refugee ' sad to think this is how our nation has become , friends &family tell me I am being naive in wishing there was more compassion shown & help given to people fleeing such terrible circumstances, as I haven't had my views put to the test by actively helping I remain a hypocrite, does any one have ideas for what we can or should do ?

TriciaF Thu 17-Nov-16 17:14:54

I should add to my earlier post - the welcome offered to the refugee Jewish children during WW2 was a wonderful example of the compassion and generosity that UK people can show to those who are suffering. I've met a few of them. Also many Jewish refugees who were already living in the UK from the 30s, in London mainly, and were evacuated to country families.
I've heard from Jewish immigrants from other countries that British people are known for their sympathy for the underdog.
It's hiding there somewhere.

ElaineI Thu 17-Nov-16 23:32:53

Real child refugees are welcome - not migrants lying about their age. It is actually easy to tell if someone is in their 20s not teens. In Scotland you are considered an adult at 16 so we should be looking after under 16's only.

durhamjen Fri 18-Nov-16 00:50:14

Why not real adult refugees? What's wrong with them? Refugees come in family groups as well. Durham has a number of Syrian refugee families.

grannyactivist Fri 18-Nov-16 00:58:20

Even if they are not strictly children each one of these refugees is someone's child. My own youngest son is now 24 and although he lives independently he continues to be in need of his family's love and support. Having both first-hand and vicarious experiences of the impact of modern war I am moved to compassion for the plight of anyone fleeing situations that we can only imagine - if we care to or dare to that is.

The younger of the two Afghan boys I fostered looked much older than his 16 year old brother even though he was only 14. They also have an older brother who was 17 when they arrived and he definitely looked to be in his early 20's (their ages have been verified so there is no doubt about that).

If people could only hear what some of these refugees have seen and experienced I am sure they would be much more tolerant and accepting. Can you imagine walking home and the boy you were chatting to is suddenly just a mass of blood and bone in a crater - and you're not sure if the blood you're covered in is his or yours? Or can you imagine being in a town that is being constantly shelled and you've had no access to clean water or food for eleven days and every night you hear your younger siblings whimpering because they can't cry any more? Imagine you've been kidnapped and hideously tortured then released on a whim, only to get home to find they came and took and killed your brother instead. These are everyday occurrences for some children and the effects of them don't go away when an 18th birthday has passed.

Imagine you've had to leave your mum and your granny, your younger brothers and sisters and all your friends because there is no job, no hope and no future for you in the country that you love - that you expect never to see those people again? It makes me weep.

In my world there is no such thing as the wrong kind of refugee.

durhamjen Fri 18-Nov-16 01:04:44

Well said, grannyactivist. I agree, a refugee is a refugee. How can someone choose, sitting in a safe country like ours, whether some refugees deserve to be saved, and others sent back where they came from?

norose4 Fri 18-Nov-16 09:54:16

Thank you Grannyactivist, I have been trying to put the points you raise across (sad to say)to some friends family etc , but could never find the words to explain what our fellow human beings are going through & how humbled we should be that we are selves are fortunate enough not to be in their situation. My parting shot to them was always that if they didn't bother to find out or look for the truth behind some inflammatory headlines that the least they could do was to shut up until they had 😠!!

norose4 Fri 18-Nov-16 09:57:39

Ohh & 💐💐💐💐👍for you

Jalima Fri 18-Nov-16 10:26:21

norose if you can't help in a practical way yourself there may be local groups who are helping refugees who may be in need of donations, good household items, toys etc.
I have pmd you a link to a charity which helps refugees from Syria who have managed to escape to Turkey. They help in a practical way with clothing, food, paying for accommodation. What they do not do is give money to refugees in case it is used to pay smugglers for the perilous sea crossing to Greece.
They also have some drivers who risk their lives making runs into Syria with food and medical supplies.
I will not say more because some posters make unpleasant comments unfortunately.

Good post grannyactivist.

I heard on the news that the BBC etc do not report most of what they get sent out of Syria because it is just so horrific - should we be spared?

Jane10 Fri 18-Nov-16 11:43:30

I don't think most people have a problem with the tragic Syrian refugees. However, the waters are muddied by the economic migrants who just want to be here rather than have to be somewhere safe. I know the usual people will complain about me saying this but I think this is a very common viewpoint as evidenced by the Brexit vote. By economic migrants btw, I don't mean EU ones.

norose4 Fri 18-Nov-16 12:31:36

Thank you Jalima , have sent pm to you, can't believe how some can't get the' walk a mile in my shoes' outlook Whilst I respect there right to their views,I do wish they would just stop & about how lucky we all are !

durhamjen Fri 18-Nov-16 12:39:30

Having seen what is on the news about Syria, particularly Aleppo, I am not sure there is such a thing as an economic migrant any more.
The reason it's a very common viewpoint is because the right-wing press say there are so many economic migrants.
Why don't you mean EU ones? Most economic migrants are from the EU, not from Syria or Afghanistan. The right-wing press conflates the two groups and stirs up bad feelings against them all. I read today that EU nurses are going home because of prejudice against them.

www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-eu-nurses-are-suffering-racist-abuse-and-heading-home-a-parliamentary-inquiry-is-told-a7423611.html

Good news for their own countries - not so good for the NHS.

Jane10 Fri 18-Nov-16 12:44:02

Pakistan, Libya, Sudan?
I personally have extremely positive experience of living and working with EU 'migrants'. I don't read right wing newspapers. My opinions are my own and I am entitled to them as others are entitled to theirs.

Jalima Fri 18-Nov-16 15:32:40

I do see your point Jane10 and why something was not done much sooner to sort out genuine refugees from economic migrants is a question that I find puzzling.

Katek Fri 18-Nov-16 15:33:05

Britain has not always been as welcoming to refugees as one might think. The government closed the doors on all immigration from Nazi occupied territory at the outbreak of WW2 and only 10,000 Jewish refugees made it into the UK during the entire course of the war. These refugees were supported by Jewish organisations in terms of housing, work and education as the government did not want them to become a drain on stretched resources. Many of these refugees, having just escaped the horrors of Nazi occupied Europe, then found themselves interned as enemy aliens. During the 1930's Jewish immigration was only permitted if it was seen to be of benefit to Great Britain or if immigrants came with their own businesses/cash or if they were sponsored. Only around 80,000 Jewish immigrants/refugees came to GB from 1933-38 so added to the 10.000 that came during the war that makes 90,000 over 12 years, or 7500 per annum. Pretty small numbers indeed when one looks at what was happening in Europe

grannyactivist Sat 19-Nov-16 02:31:18

Sorting out 'genuine' refugees from economic migrants is loaded with complexity. Take the case of a 20 year old young man from Afghanistan; he was 5 years old when his country was invaded. He has witnessed some incredibly traumatic scenes and his whole life has been dominated by a war waged by foreigners in his country. He has had a disrupted education because his school was destroyed by insurgents and there are few, if any, jobs available to him. His family sell most of their meagre plot of land to raise the money to pay people traffickers to get him out of the country because if the *Taliban come to recruit him and he refuses to join them he will be killed. He doesn't want to go, he doesn't want to leave his family, he doesn't want to stay and risk being killed.

Is he an economic migrant or a refugee?

*(In 2010, the year my son in law was killed, 2,777 civilians were also killed and it's estimated that the Taliban was responsible for  3⁄4 of all civilian deaths.)

grannyactivist Sat 19-Nov-16 02:39:34

I don't often use long quotes, but I think if people genuinely had some understanding of what life is like for these people it would stir their compassion:

Quote taken from the United Nations Report:
AFGHANISTAN MIDYEAR REPORT 2016
PROTECTION OF CIVILIANS IN ARMED CONFLICT

“The testimony of victims and their families brings into agonizing focus the tragedy of each one of the 63,934 people killed or maimed by this protracted conflict since 2009,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.

“The family that lost a breadwinner, forcing the children to leave school and struggle to make ends meet; the driver who lost his limbs, depriving him of his livelihood; the man who went to the bazaar to shop for his children only to return home to find them dead; the broken back and leg that has never been treated because the family cannot afford the cost of treatment; the parents who collected their son’s remains in a plastic bag… In just the past six months, there have been at least 5,166 such stories – of which one-third involve the killing or maiming of children, which is particularly alarming and shameful.”

“The violations laid bare in this report set in motion a cascade of potential human rights abuses that stretch from Afghanistan to the Mediterranean and beyond, as so many Afghans are driven to seek refuge abroad, taking enormous risks,” Zeid added. “Parties to the conflict must cease the deliberate targeting of civilians and the use of heavy weaponry in civilian-populated areas. There must be an end to the prevailing impunity enjoyed by those responsible for civilian casualties – no matter who they are.”

unama.unmissions.org/afghanistan-record-level-civilian-casualties-sustained-first-half-2016-un-report

weny62 Sat 19-Nov-16 11:27:29

I'm sorry but many "refugees" are in fact economic migrants who have travelled through Europe to get to Britain. It is this constant misuse of our kindness and generosity which means many people now believe "we are full". The difference in the WW2 evacuees and present day refugees is obvious, one set were already here and had to move for safety they had little choice, the new "children" are in some cases adults who should not be here at all, I also question why they are looked after until 25 when our own children in care are ignored after 18 with many ending up homeless and jobless. I await people calling me racist but believe that we need to have more robust immigration policy and that Europe needs to stop letting these people just wander through unhindered. A true refugee should claim asylum in the first safe country as per the UN convention.

Barmyoldbat Sat 19-Nov-16 12:11:52

No problem whatsoever with most refugees, in fact I help out at a centre teaching english and help at a refugee centre. I truely believe that we should show compassion to them, and help them as much as possible. But saying that I have a "twinge" of a problem with some of the ones who come from Africa. This is a continent who didn't want Colonial rule, fair enough I can understand that, but now when it all turns pear shape with corrupt and tribal fighting they want to come to our country, the country they didn't want! Instead of borrowing huge sums of money to make the journey here, why not borrow less and start a family business? This is not a rant against refugees and I dont read the mail.

grannypiper Sat 19-Nov-16 13:17:18

I dont want a single person in this world to suffer but that includes the many people born in our islands.When we cant give a warm and safe place for our veterans to call home or even just lay their head down for the night how can we morally take people from other countries.A line must be drawn somewhere.
I believe our aid budget is very generous but is exploited by every Government that is given a slice of it. We need stricter rules and regulations concerning how this money is spent abroad.To take people away from their on region and bring them into a way of life that is totally alien to them is in my opinion is cruel.

Barmyoldbat Sat 19-Nov-16 14:16:31

If you are living in a terrible war zone where there are daily bonbings, chenpmical attacks etc I think they would rather luve in as you put it an alien world than live in their country. As for our people living on the streets that is a failure by the governmentnot the fault of the refugees. What would you do if it was your family cin the war zones?

Barmyoldbat Sat 19-Nov-16 14:17:34

Ops...Live not luve

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