September column: Refugee crisis

Jo Cox writes a column every month for the Dewsbury Press. This is the column for September, published today.

The image will haunt me. The limp body of an innocent three year old little boy washed up by the tide on a Turkish beach. I had just tucked up my own precious babies with their favourite teddy and a good night snuggle and those heart wrenching images of a stolen childhood ripped through my conscience.

It shouldn’t take this level of human tragedy, captured in such a heart-breaking image, to force governments to act. But having worked on humanitarian crises for many years as an Oxfam aid worker – I know all too well that sadly sometimes it does.

What’s happening in Syria is at the same time incredibly complex and yet very simple. A human tragedy has been unfolding there for the past few years on a scale not seen in Europe since the Second World War.

The barbarism of ISIS is second only to the horror inflicted on Syrians by President Assad.  Together it means innocent civilians dying in the most horrific ways. To escape this, desperate parents – like those of three year old Aylan Kurdi and his five year old brother Galip – are forced to make choices that no mum or dad should have to take. To risk the lives of their most beloved on a rickety, over-crowded boat in the hope of sanctuary and a future in Europe or to remain in a war torn, broken country or under a tarpaulin tent watching your kids get thinner day by day and your hope ebb away.

This then pushes the world’s most desperate people into the hands of the vile, predatory human traffickers who deal only in death and misery.

Britain, and indeed the rest of Europe, must remember their consciences and answer the plea of the Syrian people.

It is shameful that Britain, with our long and proud tradition of helping refugees – and who wrote the rules on how to help refugees in the forties, has helped just 216 Syrian refugees since March last year. To put that in context: over the same period the German government chose to help 30,000 and the Turkish government, and many Turkish families, are sheltering almost two million Syrians.

Yet our Prime Minister has shamefully refused to do more until this week, a point I made when I raised it with him at PMQs this week. After a public outcry he was forced to offer sanctuary to 4,000 refugees a year over five years. It is a start but nowhere near enough. We must build upon the bold and generous responses from communities and Councils all across the UK, including here in Kirklees. We must also press the PM to support a bold, ambitious EU response when he meets European leaders next week.

For too long, this Government has ignored the worsening crisis in Syria such that it has now become the biggest humanitarian emergency in our lifetime. If we don’t act urgently the cost in human, social and financial terms will be far greater down the line. There’s no better way to prevent the refugee crisis than tackling that which is forcing Syrians to flee.

Like most politicians, I entered politics to help those most in need and right now I can’t think of anyone more needy than a terrified Syrian toddler and their family floating on a perilous sea desperately hoping that her cry for help will be heard.

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