I quit my role at the Home Office last year because I could not serve in a department led by our current Home Secretary, whose views towards refugee “people like me” are despicable. I fled what is today Somaliland 33 years ago with half of my family, leaving the rest behind not knowing if I would ever see them again. Fellow British-Somali and Londoner Warsan Shire perfectly summed up why my family and I became refugees when she said “no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark; you only run for the border when you see the whole city running as well”.
And run everyone did, looking for shelter where they could find it, and for us it was here in the UK. Things were so different then, compared to how they are today. There was kindness, there was compassion and because of that I am who I am today. The sad irony is that when my family and I became refugees the country also had a Conservative government and one which was led by the Iron Lady herself.
Margaret Thatcher’s government not only gave me safety but rescued my grandparents from a refugee camp. My grandfather, who was ill due to being tortured by the Somali dictator, was nursed back to health and was able to return to Somaliland after a few years here. I mention that he and most of my family went back to home when Somaliland was founded in 1991 because most people who become refugees don’t want to live in a land that is not their own and when they have the opportunity to go back they will. But to do that they need to heal and get their life together.
Sadly, this Government’s current rhetoric seems to miss the concept of why people flee — its controversial mega-barge set to house hundreds of asylum seekers is evidence of that. When the Home Secretary and others talk about those seeking refuge as “invaders” I wonder who they are seeking to win over. As someone who has known Conservative voters, members and politicians for decades, I can tell you that they are not speaking to their constituents nor are they deterring those who are risking their lives to find safety.
I understand that a country needs a good immigration system but that has to be one based on good and fair policies. It must be based on policies that reflect what is great about this country and its people; a policy that is not a 222-bedroom, three-storey vessel, that will soon house 500 male asylum seekers on the south coast. It is not based on policies that strip women trafficked into this country of the safety and human rights we have enshrined in law.
I don’t have much faith in our current Home Secretary but I do have some faith in the Prime Minister, and others around him. Rishi Sunak knows that the Illegal Migration Bill as it stands and the language being used by his ministers is not the legacy he wants to leave behind, nor does he want to inflict more pain on people who have suffered and lost so much already.
Bad Sisters and the family factor
Bad Sisters won a Bafta on Sunday — and given it was the reason I signed up for Apple TV, I could not be happier.
This dark comedy starring Sharon Horgan, below, is about how five sisters find themselves at the centre of a life insurance probe after the death of one of their husbands. It really got me thinking about sisterhood.
I, like the Garvey girls, come from a big family, which is as common among Somalis as it is for the Irish. But what stood out for me was not just the number of siblings, but the role each one played — I only have one sister but as the eldest child I have played mum for years. I hated having so many siblings while growing up, but I can say now that it’s a blessing, something I don’t think I could live without.
The show may be dark at times, but it makes you appreciate knowing that, whatever happens, your siblings will be there with you.