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THE past 12 months have been filled with challenges here at home and around the world.
The pandemic continues to lay bare the foundations of our societal fabric after more than a decade of austerity.
But time and again, it has been the incredible generosity and spirit of our communities that has brought us hope that things can change.
In the past year, we have witnessed wide-ranging crises, from the pandemic, the climate emergency and the displacement of nearly 30 million people across the globe fleeing war, poverty and famine.
The failures in effectively tackling these issues have meant that the need for urgent and radical action is greater than ever.
With the world’s temperatures at their hottest and with the largest number of refugees in history, it is absolutely clear that the time for action is upon us. We must build the case for a caring, compassionate and humanitarian response to this disaster.
The failure of leadership on the world stage to effectively provide safe passage and adequate support for those seeking refuge has resulted in the horrendous scenes at the Polish border with Belarus.
The UN and human rights organisations have described the treatment of these desperate people by the respective border forces as “deeply concerning,” citing potential breaches of international law.
Interviewees at the camps have reported beatings and threats from border forces, as well as a chronic lack of access to food, clean water and shelter in the plummeting freezing cold temperatures.
The images of border forces deploying water cannon on men, women and children at the border crossing is a horrific indictment of the European Union’s failure to agree a comprehensive and compassionate process to support refugees.
The UN has urged Poland to review its legislation and conduct “meaningful individual assessments” to determine the protection needs of refugees, a requirement under international law.
In recent months, the British government has also been responsible for some of the most vitriolic rhetoric against refugees attempting to cross the English Channel.
Last month saw the worst single recorded incident of refugees drowning in the crossing between France and Britain, with the lives of 27 men, women and children lost to the sea after their dinghy deflated and capsized.
It is a matter of absolute urgency that the British and French governments work together to ensure this kind of tragedy never happens again.
They must look at the examples of the governments of Bangladesh, Colombia and so many others that have fulfilled their obligations to provide settlement for refugees.
The government must also cease the ongoing detainment of asylum-seekers at facilities such as Yarl’s Wood and the new Hassockfield detention centre in Co Durham, which opened just a few days before Christmas, despite a great deal of local opposition. And it is that local response to these issues that should inspire us all.
In Kent, many people have come forward and offered lodging for the refugees currently being held in the crowded temporary accommodation provided by the government, as well as donating food, clothing and children’s toys.
There is a great deal of complexity in the individual circumstances of refugees, whether they are trying to reach Britain or the EU, but what is clear and absolutely imperative to building a compassionate and humanitarian response to the crisis, is that each and every single person seeking asylum across borders deserves to be treated with dignity and understanding, with a right to access to housing, education, healthcare and basic human rights.
It is only with international co-operation and building partnerships around the globe that we will bring about the end to the refugee crisis.
This Christmas, millions of people here in Britain are facing the sharp end of poverty, with many making the heartbreaking choice between heating or eating, paying a bill or buying a gift for their children.
This is an utterly shameful economic injustice that the government seems all too willing to ignore and it is this apparent inability to act with kindness or compassion, even towards its own citizens, that completes the case for a wholesale rethink of our entire immigration system and our treatment of some of the poorest and most desperate people in the world.
And as with the individuals, families and businesses offering support to the refugees in Kent, there has been a phenomenal response to accounts of those struggling to make ends meet at Christmas.
Up and down the country, communities are coming together to open kitchens, foodbanks and mutual aid groups for the vulnerable.
In 21st-century Britain, this shouldn’t be necessary but the failure to truly “level up” has been devastating.
But let us look ahead to 2022, inspired by these glimpses of a truly compassionate society and hopeful for the radical change needed to bring peace and justice to all.
Jeremy Corbyn is MP for Islington North.
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