I want you to imagine waking up tomorrow to discover that the world around you, your community, your country, has erupted into a sudden, violent, bloody war. In that moment everything you take for granted about life in a civilised, settled, peaceful and secure society is savagely stripped away.
You head out to the shops, only to come home and find that your house has been bombed. The life you have built for yourself and your family over many years vanishes in an instant. All your material possessions gone. Shelter and protection from the elements gone.
Soon you begin to hear about friends, neighbours and family members who have been killed or injured. But this is nothing compared to the stories of those who have been kidnapped, imprisoned or tortured. Some are forced to fight.
In desperate fear for your life and the lives of those you most love you make a big decision. You choose to take your family and flee, braving perilous conflict zones, risking life and limb to cross oceans, finally to throw yourself upon the shores and at the mercy of a foreign nation.
In refugee camps you struggle to form a life with nothing but a few canvass walls to call home. You are grateful to feel safe, at least relative to the nightmare that you left behind, but you don’t speak the language and have no legal status. You can’t work, you can’t earn money. Your children miss out on any formal education. Access to medicines and other forms of healthcare is severely limited. Law and order is patchy and there is little protection against those less scrupulous.
This is tolerable for a time, but it is no life. So as the conflict rages on and the prospect of returning home seems ever more distant you look to build a new future, to identify a new nation you can call home and build a new life. What risks might you take, what laws might you break, what sacrifices wouldn’t you make in the hope of reaching such a place?
If this feels far fetched, if this feels like it could never happen to you, that is because you have had the extreme fortune and privilege to be born in a place and at a time that you are sheltered from such brutal realities. But right now, in a number of countries all around the world, this is exactly what is happening to innocent families not so very different from yours. They didn’t choose it, they didn’t cause it, they are simply not as lucky as you are.
According to the UNHCR there are currently more than 65 million forcibly displaced persons, including 21 million refugees around the world right now. Never in human history have so many people faced such abject suffering. This is a crisis we are largely sheltered from in the UK, yet it is a crisis the likes of which our global society has never faced before.
I am proud to be British, to be part of a nation that has historically been a beacon around the world for tolerance, civil liberties and compassionate government. I am proud to be part of a nation with a great history of welcoming and protecting refugees, opening our doors to the destitute when they are at their most vulnerable.
Yet I am also, right now, deeply ashamed by the moral failures of our government in the face of the greatest refugee crisis the world has ever known. Just when the world needs strong, compassionate leadership more than ever we have stepped back from our ethical responsibilities, turning our back on the very moral character that has made our nation so great by pulling up the drawbridge.
While our European neighbours have opened their doors and their hearts to the world’s most vulnerable, we have made ourselves smaller and more insular. We have turned inward, betraying the very identity of our nation and abandoning those who are most desperately in need.
We can’t solve this problem alone, but we certainly won’t solve it if we ignore it and fail to demonstrate true moral leadership by playing our part and taking our fair share of refugees.
We are better than this – we have to be better than this – which is why I am so incredibly proud that the Liberal Democrats have put a record commitment to take 10,000 refugees per year from conflict zones such as Syria into our manifesto, in particular protecting child refugees through the immediate reinstatement of the Dubs scheme.
There are a number of issues at stake in this election, but few that have the capacity to define us so fundamentally as a nation, speaking to the very core of who we are. Are we a country of compassionate, considerate, caring people who put the needs of others first and look out always for those more vulnerable than us? Or are we now a nation indifferent to the suffering of those whose shoes we could so easily find ourselves in were circumstances just a little different?
If you believe in our future as an outward looking, compassionate nation, willing to step up to the plate and do our part in solving major global problems then please stand with me and stand with the world’s 21 million refugees by voting Liberal Democrat on June 8th.