At the beginning of May this year I secured a debate in the Scottish Parliament to raise the fact that thousands of men, women and children were dying whilst attempting to flee from war torn countries to reach Europe. Introducing the debate I explained that I had brought the motion forward to raise awareness of the extent of the tragedy that was ongoing but also to make the case for the Scottish Parliament to do more to speak out and use every bit of influence we have to make the UK Government and governments across Europe step up and take steps to address the unfolding tragedy.
As well as supporting the argument being put forward by the Italian government for more funding for the Mediterranean rescue mission, I questioned given the volume of people fleeing crisis torn countries the wisdom of refugees only being able to apply for asylum in the country of arrival and argued that we needed to establish legal and efficient routes for people to claim refugee status.
Four months on and the situation has got much worse. Whilst David Cameron looks on like a rabbit caught in the headlights not knowing which way to turn resulting in a complete failure of leadership from the UK, this growing humanitarian crisis worsens by the day.
The heart breaking sight on our newspapers and TV screens of a three year old boy lying dead washed up drowned on a beach in Turkey has finally shamed governments across Europe into recognising they cannot simply stand by on the other side and do nothing. Aylan Kurdi was fleeing Syria with his family and sadly his mother and five year old brother also lost their lives as the dingy they were travelling in cap sized.
You would have to think that thousands of families would not take the risk of crossing the Mediterranean and putting their lives in the hands of people smugglers unless they were driven by sheer desperation. The UN Refugee Agency states that inside Syria the last few months have been brutal with increased rocket and mortar attacks, rising vehicle explosions and heavy bombardment which they say, with ensuing retaliation is driving thousands more people from their homes. Over 4 million Syrian refugees are already in neighbouring countries which are struggling to cope with the UN reporting that for those millions of men, woman and children hope is dwindling as they sink deeper into abject poverty.
In the Scottish Parliament last week all the political parties united to say that Scotland should and would take its share of refugees with the First Minster stating that we should take 1000 refugees as a starting point. I also welcome the fact that a taskforce has been set up to ensure that we have in place the support and facilities and the resources to accommodate people coming to our country in these terrible circumstances.
Last week my family buried our Dad, he was 85 years old and I don’t know if his generation was different but the question should we help was never in question. Back in May he said to me we must do something, these people need our help. So today I say we must line up with the rest of Europe and open our country and take our share of refuges who are fleeing their war torn countries and make the necessary investment in infrastructure and jobs not only to make this a smooth transition but to build for the future wellbeing of our whole economy and all the people living in these islands that make up the United Kingdom.