Refugees are thankful to be alive

In Britain we associate camping with a rustic retreat into nature from our manic and sophisticated lives. For refugees fleeing political persecution, camping in squalor is a way of life. Most of them do not want to leave their homeland, under six percent reach Europe. They arrive in refugee camps traumatised, alone and hungry.

Brutalised by war and disorientated because they do not speak the language, they do not understand the culture and they do not know whom to trust. Women have often been raped in front of their husbands or male relatives and children are suicidal and starving, they fight to survive.

Refugees must compete for food, water to drink and bathe and battle to become legal citizens. Without passports refugees are not allowed to return to their homeland, even if family members remain there, without permission from the Home Office. They have already left their family, friends, homes, possessions and above all their dignity. It is possible that even their jewellery, their only portable possessions, may be taken from them, if not by robbers then by the authorities to pay for their stay.

Refugees stop being citizens and become stateless aliens in a foreign land where the government sees them as a problem rather than a person. They are stripped of their humanity by the immigration authorities who interrogate them relentlessly. While necessary, it must feel like an assault on an already battered psyche, the final straw tipping them over into a temporary insanity haunted by the hell of going back to their homeland.

Countries in the West have the opposite problem. Many argue that Britain is a densely populated island, the green fields are cultivated for farming. We are told hospitals are at breaking point and schools and the welfare state are stretched to capacity. Refugees who do not speak English are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and must be protected under the UN Geneva Convention of Human Rights.

Generations of indigenous, white British people living in overcrowded, dilapidated council and housing association flats are trapped in low income jobs or unemployment. They resent the refugees who sometimes take priority on the housing list because they are homeless or temporarily housed in a detention centre. The refugees are grateful for any shelter but the poverty, language barriers and mutual mistrust can prove to be a fatal combination setting neighbours against each other and fracturing the heart of communities.