By Miriam Brittenden
Durham University Amnesty International (DUAI) have recently launched a petition urging the Prime Minister to do more to offer sanctuary to refugees coming to Britain.
It asks David Cameron to take more urgent action for refugees around the world, especially those from Syria. It calls for Britain to give refugees a “safe route to sanctuary”, and above all argues that the UK should be welcoming far more refugees than at present.
The petition builds on Durham City MP Roberta Blackman-Woods’ call on Durham County Council to act on the growing refugee crisis and offer asylum to a number of Syrian Refugees, and demands “bigger change from the top.”
Over the course of Thursday 22nd and Friday 23rd October, DUAI collected 880 signatures whilst campaigning in Market Square and outside the Bill Bryson Library.
Milly Rainford, President of DUAI, told Palatinate: “The current refugee crisis is a problem for everyone around the world, not just the countries most directly affected by it.
“Britain needs to do more to give sanctuary to those fleeing desperate situations.
“86% of the world’s refugees are currently being hosted by developing countries which have much less resources to cope.
“Of course we can’t house every refugee, but the scale of the crisis calls for urgent action.”
Rainford called the UK response to the refugee crisis so far – its offer to provide sanctuary to 20,000 people by 2020 – “wholly inadequate”.
The Durham Liberal Thinkers Society and the Durham University Labour Club strongly support Durham Amnesty’s petition and stance on UK refugee policy.
Co-chair of the Durham University Labour Club (DULC), Jade Azim, spoke to Palatinate on the issue: “Cameron is not doing enough. He is worried about political expediency when people’s lives are at risk.”
DULC “support” Yvette Cooper’s idea to have ten refugee families welcomed in every UK town and would like to see the NUS and Durham Students’ Union lobby effectively on this issue.
Expressing similar sentiments, Geeks Teh, Chair of the Durham University Liberal Thinkers society (DULT), said the society “absolutely” supported the petition.
“20,000 refugees is a disgustingly low number. The United Kingdom is capable of far more. It is deplorable that Germany, France, Spain and Poland, to name a few, take in far more than we do.”
Durham Amnesty told Palatinate that generally the student population had been “receptive” to the campaign and happy to sign the petition. The real challenge however, Rainford said, was persuading those more sceptical about the cause.
George Jackson, Political Officer for the Durham University Conservative Association (DUCA), offered a more sceptical view.
“We believe that a responsible solution to the refugee crisis can only be found if we address both the crisis itself and its root causes in the conflict in Syria.”
With this in mind he said that 20,000 refugees over the next five years is a “proportionate” response.
“Our efforts are best spent assisting the most vulnerable refugees in Syria and neighbouring countries. We believe this to be a more measured response than simply accepting more refugees from the European continent.”
Jackson added that DUCA “would be happy to help organise a debate with the other political societies in Durham in order to increase student engagement” with this “pressing issue”.
When asked what impact she thought the petition would have, the Durham Amnesty International President said that it should be seen in the broader context of Amnesty groups around the world.
“Amnesty is a global movement, so each signature contributed or letter sent is an accumulation of voices which are more likely to be listened to.”
Anna Murphy, the society’s publicity officer, advised students on what else they can do to engage with the crisis.
“Talk to people, properly do your research so you really know what the implications of welcoming refugees into the UK are, and be creative!
“There are loads of charities you can get involved with and online petitions you can sign.”
Photograph: Anna Murphy