OPINION: It’s time for a grown-up conversation about the refugee crisis

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OPINION: It’s time for a grown-up conversation about the refugee crisis

To mark Refugee Week, Sarah Sackman, Labour candidate for Finchley and Golders Green, reflects on her relatives who fled oppression to come to England for a better life

Jewish refugees arriving from Germany in February 1939
Jewish refugees arriving from Germany in February 1939

This is Refugee Week and in honour of its theme, ‘Our Home’, I have been reflecting on what Finchley and Golders Green means to me and to so many others whose ancestors came here in need of a better life – and why it is so special to call it my home.

You don’t have to go very far back in my family tree to find relatives of mine who fled oppression and conflict to come to England for a better life, specifically to one little pocket of north London.

Weeks like this remind me of the honour I had of meeting inspirational campaigner Lord Alf Dubs. He came to this country, aged just six, on the Kindertransport from Nazi Germany in an operation masterminded by Sir Nicholas Winton, a man who saved hundreds of young lives by bringing them to these shores.

These two incredible men understood the value of human life, what it means to be safe and to be welcomed and the long-term gratitude that ensues towards people who open their arms to those in need. Unfortunately, recent years have made it feel like this country is turning its back on the values it used to hold.

Sarah Sackman with Keir Starmer at Brent Cross Town

I am desperate to be rid of the mean rhetoric and cynical policies that we have been bombarded with over the past 14 years. One incident sticks out for me: immigration minister Robert Jenrick ordering the painting over of murals at a children’s asylum centre because they were ‘too welcoming’. Thinking of my ancestors as children, this upsets me greatly.

I think it’s time for a grown-up conversation. But first we need a grown-up government.

Sir Keir Starmer has set out a tough but fair plan for securing our borders, cracking down on exploitation of the system and making sure that we give refugees claiming asylum the very best chance to thrive and contribute here.

Labour’s plan recognises the complexity of the issue. It doesn’t peddle vacuous slogans. It will create a new cross-border police unit to tackle people-smuggling crime gangs and provide humanitarian aid at source to prevent refugees needing to flee.

Labour’s plan recognises the complexity of the issue. It doesn’t peddle vacuous slogans.

But perhaps most importantly, Labour will never stray from the most fundamental truth – that every man, woman and child who puts themselves at the mercy of a criminal gang, every person who just wants to find a decently-paid job to feed themselves and their family, every single person who puts themselves at the mercy of our immigration system, is a human being.

For many of us here in this wonderfully diverse part of North London, this is personal. My family is Jewish, hailing from Gibraltar and Eastern Europe; my friends and hopefully future constituents have familial ties across the world. Whether Cypriot, Polish or Indian, whether born here or abroad, I know they are proud of their roots – but also proud to have made a life here.


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