Remember, we defend refugees not because they are saints, but because they are human

Take a random sample of a million British people, and you’re sure to come across some bad ones. Some rapists? Probably. Some sexists? Certainly. Among these million people are going to be fat people and thin people, tall people and short people, Left-wingers and right-wingers, Muslims, Christians, atheists, mothers, fathers, grandparents and everything in between. So it should come as little surprise to us that when Germany, at a time when everyone else was slamming doors and putting up fences, generously opened its borders to a million refugees, some of them turned out to be not very nice people. But according to right-wingers, this was a reality the Left had been willfully ignoring, an inconvenient truth disregarded because it didn’t suit our agenda. And they’d be right.

Take a look at any right-wing newspaper and you’re sure to find screaming headlines about foreigners who came to our land, stole our stuff and attacked ‘our’ women. In the case of the New Year’s Eve Cologne assaults, it certainly seems that recent migrants were involved in serious thefts and sexual assaults against female revelers. Worse still, it appears that police were willfully avoiding going public with these claims for fear of stoking a rightwing backlash against migrants. Cue accusations of a cover-up, and angry demands for the ‘madness’ of immigration to cease.

The Left, and those who are in favour of increased asylum during these times of horrific conflict, shouldn’t be surprised about the backlash against us. For a long time our pragmatic attempts to sway public opinion in our favour have focused on portraying refugees as butter-wouldn’t-melt saints – angelic children, defenceless women – to provide a polar opposite description to the caricature presented by rightwing groups of refugees as evil jihadists and sleazy rapists determined to break through our national borders and destroy our culture forever. But in pursuing this agenda we have forgotten why we should believe so strongly in allowing those fleeing conflict into our country, to share in our resources. It is not because they are unanimously infallible beings, but simply because they are human. Human rights are for everyone, and it’s more important than ever in this time of dire need that the Left, not just the Right, remembers that.

The Right wants to portray refugees as different from us, that they are capable of terrifying things that us civilized British people wouldn’t dream of. But of course this is ridiculous. Sure, the current refugee influx hails from countries with poor records of attitudes to women. But go out clubbing on any Saturday night in any town center up and down the country and you’ll see that British men are hardly universally gentlemanly. A feminist utopia Britain is not. To behave as if us British are universally saintly is as ridiculous as portraying refugees as a collection of terrifying criminals. The truth is that refugees are exactly like us; mostly nice, some nasty, all with faults. They are human. The difference is that we are all given an equal opportunity to prove our worth in society, and held responsible as individuals when we fail to meet these expectations. But those seeking refuge are not given this same opportunity; when a small minority reveal themselves to be abusers of women, millions are tarred with the same brush and thrown out in the cold to suffer.

We have criminal justice systems to deal with British men who cross legal boundaries and harass or attack women, and within our borders refugees and migrants are party to these laws just like anyone else. But the extreme minority – and it really is an extreme minority – shouldn’t be a reason to slam the door in the faces of the thousands of other men, women and children who are seeking a safe haven from war. If we are to stand up to the Right, and demand greater protections for refugees, we must not try and play them at the own game of caricaturing and stereotyping; of willfully ignoring nuance in the name of a political agenda. Paint a rosy picture, and the public will see right through it. Our campaign will be fatally weakened, and millions who deserve protection will suffer. But show it like it is, and don’t be afraid to tell the truth, and you might, just might, win some people over. We must argue the reality; the actions of a few shouldn’t muddy the treatment of the many. Refugees, warts and all, are human beings, and they deserve sanctuary from war.

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