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When human loss triggers an inhuman response

Angham Abdullah, Refugee Wales project researcher, 15 December 2021

Dr Angham Abdullah (Cardiff University) is a Research Associate on the Refugee Wales project. The opinions expressed here are the author’s own. 

We all heard the news about the 27 refugees who drowned trying to cross the English Channel in an inflatable dinghy on the 24th of November 2021. They included women, one of them pregnant, and children as well as young men. This was the biggest single loss of life in the Channel recorded since the International Organisation for Migration started collecting data in 2014.

Boris Johnson described the tragedy as “appalling”.  I was hoping to hear a more genuine response that reflected the tragic loss of peoples’ lives. Those victims had strong reasons to risk their lives in that way. To them, putting their lives at the mercy of the waves was more endurable than an endless cycle of wars, violence, poverty, and persecution back home. 

A few days after the tragedy, we heard responses from UK officials who, instead of empathising with the victims and looking at the real causes of such tragedies, pointed fingers at the smugglers and negotiated stricter asylum rules. And before the bodies of the 27 victims were transferred to their homelands for final burial, the Home Secretary produced an even more “appalling” response by issuing the Nationality and Borders Bill.  Clause 9 of the Nationality and Borders Bill gives the government the right to deprive naturalised British citizens of their citizenship without informing them. Because of this, around 6 million naturalised persons in the UK will live in fear of being stripped of their British nationalities. 

I couldn't stop thinking about the Syrian refugees I've interviewed for the Refugee Wales Project. Some of them have recently arrived in the UK, while others have been trying to make sense of their new life and rebuild their future and that of their children. When I asked them what getting British Citizenship meant to them, the overall response was “safety and a better future for the children”. I wondered how they would feel when they realised that the British Citizenship, they were working towards could be taken away “without any previous notice”.

I have spent years of waiting, uncertainty, anxiety as well as my life savings in return for the British citizenship which my children and I were recently granted. We thought that this citizenship would enable us at last to plan for our future. The thought that it could be revoked “at any moment” has left us feeling insecure and uncertain. Like the sea victims, very many of us who sought to mend our broken lives on "the safe shores of Britain" will see our faith in the UK further shattered. 

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