Fringe Box



Opinion: How Many Syrian Refugees Should Guildford Take?

Published on: 14 Dec, 2014
Updated on: 14 Dec, 2014
Syrian refugees

Syrian refugees

By Martin Giles

We all know that a week is a long time in politics: it is also a long time on the news front.

Turning on my radio on Monday morning the lead story was that the UK, along with other countries, was being asked by the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) to step up to the plate and accept a higher number of the two million refugees from Syria.

But today, not even a week later it seems to be all forgotten – unless you are a Syrian refugee, of course.

Let’s not forget. Let’s remember their plight; caught in a fight between a hotchpotch of militias including, the now infamous, Islamic State and a despotic government, led by a man who chatted about his wife’s latest online luxury shopping, while his country fell into violent chaos.

Let’s all thank our lucky stars that, for all it’s manifest faults, we live in a country where violence is rare, where, by and large, the law is obeyed and where we can at least vote out politicians of whom we disapprove. Most of all we live in a place where sniper fire or barrel bombs are not a daily risk to us and our loved ones.

Situations like Syria, and, of course, it is not the only failed, despotic or violent state in the world, put our local issues, important though they are to our lives, in sharp perspective.

The gap between rich and poor in this country might be widening, social and criminal justice still imperfect, corruption and dishonesty still present, but can anyone here truly compare their situation with the plight of Syrian refugee stuck under canvas with children looking up to them on a cold hillside in Turkey or Lebanon?

Of course not. We are in the Christmas season but if some of the scenes on “Black Friday” are anything to go by there is little true Christmas spirit about. For many of us, perhaps most, it is just an orgy of consumerism.

So what is the local angle to all this I hear you ask? Well it is this: in the news item someone suggested that to help the government increase its offer of the number of Syrian refugees we should accept each council should consider how many they could accommodate in their cities and boroughs.

Given that the net migration figures are already showing a population increase of over a quarter of a million each year would, say, another 20,000 from Syria really make any difference? Surely we could find room for 50 or so in our borough. And wouldn’t it be just a small thing we could do, especially at this time of year, to make the world a slightly better place?

Perhaps. But is moving everyone who is in a troubled part of the world into the West really the answer?

Most of us are probably proud of our tradition of accepting refugees. 100 years ago Britain welcomed 250,000 Belgian refugees. 3,000 were housed in Surrey and probably more than a hundred came to Guildford.

It was the right thing to do of course but we were also fighting a war to liberate their country from occupation. It is always important to tackle the root cause of a problem as well as the symptoms.

Even though modern aviation makes it possible, moving people thousands of miles away from their countries, their families, their culture, if we do have space for them all, is not the panacea some would have us think. England is, already, the most densely populated country in Europe.

But doing nothing about festering sores like Syria should not be an option either.

Unfortunately, the outlook for a better world order is bleak, all the time the UN Security council is divided in the way it is, anyway.

Couldn’t at least everyone agree to improve the humanitarian aid for these hapless people? Syria’s neighbours, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, are understandably finding it hard or impossible to bear the burden. Surely increasing the help we give them to look after these poor people is really the very least we can all do.

What do you think? Should Guildford be prepared to take some Syrian refugees? If so, how many?

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Responses to Opinion: How Many Syrian Refugees Should Guildford Take?

  1. Bernard Parke Reply

    December 14, 2014 at 3:35 pm

    There is indeed little Christmas spirit about these days and I sometimes wonder if the true meaning of Christmas has been lost in a sea of self greed.

    The plight of the people, as indeed many others such as the Sudanese migrant who clung on the under side of a lorry recently on the M25 only to have his dream of what he believed to be utopia literally crushed, is dire.

    We, as a small island, have played a considerable part in overseas aid and accommodating many migrants, many of whom fled from the oppression of European tyranny of the 1930s.

    Even to take in 50 souls would be a mere drop in the ocean, and would not solve what is truly an impossible international problem.

  2. Sue Fox Reply

    December 15, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    The only thing I would worry about is accepting up to a hundred refugees in this borough is the support network needed. Syrian’s should be housed in adequate accommodation in reach of each other, ie not scattered across the borough – given the number of to let signs there would seem to be opportunities,- perhaps the council and university might like to work together to identify homes and networks to help our fellow men and women. It should not be there’s no room in the inn, this Christmas.
    In rebuttal to Bernard’s final comment ‘every little helps ‘.

  3. George Potter Reply

    December 16, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    It is completely wrong about England being the most densely populated country in Europe and the author has fallen victim to a very tired old myth.

    First of all, it’s wrong to talk about England because the UK is our nation and, whilst England is more densely populated than the rest of the UK, there are parts of it which are less densely populated than the UK average and there are all the other parts of the UK too which people could live in but don’t (largely due to the massive draw of London).

    So if we look at the UK as a whole as we should do then you’ll see that, even after excluding small European countries like Gibraltar, the Vatican City, Monaco, Malta, Cyprus, Guernsey and Jersey, etc, we’re still less densely populated than the Netherlands and Belgium.

    Secondly, even if one was to try and fudge density figures by looking at England alone, and if we exclude smaller European countries like Malta, we’re still less densely populated than the Netherlands.

    As a journalist, I’d hope the author would know better than to repeat such a tired old myth without fact checking first.

    Otherwise the piece is good and thought provoking but it would be greatly improved without such errors.

    And on the matter of Syrian refugees then, even if we took 100,000 of them, that would be one refugee for every 604 people living in the UK. I’m pretty sure we could cope with that and that Guildford Borough could cope with one extra person per 604 already living here. Compared to existing population growth in our borough it would be just a drop in the bucket.

    • Martin Giles Reply

      December 18, 2014 at 12:33 am

      The Office of National Statistics gives the population density for England as 413 per sq km. The United Nations Population Division gives the population density of the Netherlands as 402 per sq km. Other sources corroborate England’s position in Europe’s population density table and give Belgium’s population density as 343 per sq km.

      Obviously, it is true that there are small states and territories, such as Monaco, Gibraltar and others Mr Potter lists, that have higher densities but these are commonly excluded from such comparisons.

      It is clearly stated in the article that it is England, not the whole of the UK, that has the highest population density. England is, of course, a country in its own right, within the United Kingdom, just as much as Scotland or Wales and England absorbs a highly disproportionate number of migrants, within the UK, by land area. This was one reason, it was felt that separating England from the remainder of the UK was justified.

      However, regardless of the statistics, the point the article is trying to make is that England, and the South East of England in particular, is already densely populated by comparison with other parts of Europe and the world and asks the question should this be a factor when considering the migration of refugees?

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