In 2010 I stayed, pretty much accidentally, for 3 weeks in Syria, and I want to paint you a picture:
Of the beautiful souks of Aleppo, the silks, the spices, the smells and the lamps and the jewels, a fabulous Aladdin’s cave running for miles under the city.
All gone now. Just ruins.
Of the young people crowded into the café’s of Lattakia at night. Chatting over their pizzas and coffee without a care in the world…
Of the shoe shop owner who would not let me pay for shoes because of the tiny Palestinian badge I wore…
Of the families who took us in and fed us round their kitchen tables, who offered us hot showers because ours were cold…
Of the orange groves and the beaches, and the glorious daily markets bursting with food in this self-sufficient land…
And the livery companies, the carpenters, the bakers, who fed us every night for almost 3 weeks when we could not get visas to Egypt…
All gone, almost everything gone. I have seen the pictures.
These people did not want a war, were not prepared for war. They were just like us, living their lives. They were not especially unhappy with Assad, but they did draw my attention to the US sponsored TV stations. Propaganda they said, shrugging their shoulders.
Now, as a result of our government medalling in the Middle East, as a result of WMD which did not exist, and the cruel war on the people of Iraq, followed by the disbanding of their army and police force, a vacuum was created. And there is nothing a vacuum likes more than to be filled. That’s elementary science, and ISIS filled the vacuum, and they grew.
Now, millions are on the move, and sensibly they are moving to lands of peace. Sensibly mothers are sending their sons and daughters first, the ones who are fit and able, who can work, and build a new life. The ones most likely to survive the journey.
But lately it has got worse. With the Syrian army bombarding on one side, ISIS indiscriminately cutting throats, and now the UK bombing from above, nowhere is safe. We have seen whole families, desperation in their faces, turn to traffickers for help, because no one else would. We have stood by and let them drown. Worse, our government has enacted policies NOT to rescue people coming across the Med. So we have been forced to watch helplessly, wringing our hands as little bodies are washed up on the shore of the Mediterranean. We could launch a modern day Dunkirk to rescue them, but we have not. We could extend a corridor of humanitarian help across Europe, but we have not.
People talk to me about looking after our own homeless first. But I tell you that the plight of our own homeless is a political choice. Our government chooses not to help them, just like it chooses to let innocent families drown. Our government chooses to bomb Syria, knowing full well that pouring violence on to violence has never been a solution to anything.
The money is there, just ask the 10% who own almost half the wealth. The money is there, just look at the £375 billion in QE to bail out – not flimsy little boats full of desperate humanity – but to bail out the already rich bankers.
I want to live in a country which looks after the homeless, the disabled and the old. I want to live in a country prepared to share its riches evenly as a matter of course.
This is our chance. This is our chance to forget the soap operas, the racism, the phobias and the selfishness. This is our chance to be human.
We can make room for more than 20 Syrian families. We can make room for 20,000 Syrian families. Forget the Thatcherite selfishness that has been drummed into you. Move over a little and take these war torn people into your hearts.
You know, and I know, that David Cameron’s 5 a day is barely a drop in the ocean. Let’s not build a fence around Wales; let’s not put barbed wire round our hearts; let’s be the best we can be, and open our arms to those in their hour of need.
I know it’s not just Syrians in trouble. People are escaping war in Iraq, in Libya, Eritrea and more. But the UN says the Syrians are the most vulnerable group of all
Today we are asking for 20 Syrian families to come to Swansea. No one can refuse that – but we can do so much better!