Refugee Crisis: Public Empathy is crucial blogs Anna Peng

January 31, 2016 7:19 PM
By Anna Peng
Anna Peng and others collecting for refugees in Calais

Anna (far right) collecting for refugees in Calais

I was lucky enough to attend Lib Dem Refugee Action event which took place last month. The event was hosted by Baroness Sheehan and Save the Children, with invited speakers Ahmet and Hussan who escaped from the Syrian wars.

The talk started off with Ahmet and Hussan sharing their experiences of getting to the UK (yes…dingy, camps, hiding in the trucks and all the things we have seen on TV). They embarked their journey across the sea with people of all walks: engineers, professors, street vendors, mothers, fathers and children. Unaccompanied children are commonly exploited, and the dangers are real and immediate (of the 13,000 children registered in Italy, more than 5000 are missing last year). They witnessed first hand human traffickers selling girls on the side of the road under bright sunlight in Turkey. On this front, Lib Dem is lending its support to Save the Children in urging the PM to allow 3,000 unaccompanied children to be housed in the UK through their own channel. Unsurprisingly, PM responded with a cheap joke at Tim Farron and Lib Dem.

Despite the ugliness of their journey, perhaps the most striking of all is their dignified hope for the future, their conviction to press on the agenda to urge other countries to do more. Ahmet talked about the need to provide the Syrian refugees opportunities to education and to trades. Only through providing a stable life for the Syrian people, the same people can gain the strength to solve the crisis in their country and to bring the future for Syria. If Europe wants to get rid of this problem, they need to support the Syrian refugee, who are the people of Syria's future. Most, if not all, intend to go back to their homeland if things change for the better. By helping them we are gaining allies in the Middle East.

I think it is time to paint a better and fairer picture of the Syrian people. The real danger with the current dismal portrayal of drowning people is that very soon the public will run out of sympathy. The true challenge is how we turn a short-term sympathy into empathy. I think talking about the common ground of shared experience, shared profession, shared aspiration is a first step. Let's hear more talks about why supporting the Syrian people also mean supporting its future.

Anna Peng is an executive member of Chinese Liberal Democrats and contactable at