Jim on a rescue mission in the Mediterranean

Scottish Refugee Council Ambassador Jim Sneddon tells us about his forthcoming rescue mission with Refugee Rescue to help people arriving in Greece.

It has been 2 years since I last ventured out to the Mediterranean to rescue people making the dangerous journey from their home countries in search of a better life. Since then, I have had a lot of time to reflect on my past experience whilst also having my eyes opened to new opportunities and ways in which I can help the cause. This includes my role as an ambassador within the Scottish Refugee Council Glasgow and planning my future trip to Lesvos, Greece, in June 2019. 

 All of these experiences have been rewarding in different ways. My original trip to the Mediterranean gave me a life-changing perspective on those making this extremely dangerous journey. I heard the stories of people who had been held at gunpoint, were forced onto dinghy’s unfit for sea conditions, forced to hand over life savings. I found it shocking that even this journey, as frightening and dangerous as it was, was better than remaining where they were. 

What I have learned from the Scottish Refugee Council, however, is that people’s tiresome journey does not end upon arrival at neighbouring countries or further afield. Here in the UK, we have been fed lies about those attempting to seek asylum and refuge here. According to UNHCR figures, we are facing one of the largest refugee crises of all time.

The number of forcibly displaced people worldwide has reached 68.5 million in 2018, of which around 100,000 have been granted asylum in the UK. To put this in perspective, this is around 0.25% of the UK’s entire population. Yet what the UK as a nation has been fed by the media and politicians opposed to opening the borders to help those in need is that we as the UK are facing an extreme refugee crisis. Not only this, we are told that as a nation, our services cannot cope with the sheer number of refugees coming to our country. This is simply not true. 

These people face a gruelling process to get refugee status. Statistics released by the Refugee Council show that by the quarter ending December 2018, 12,213 people claiming asylum had been waiting for longer than six months for an initial decision on their case, and many wait even longer. Before being granted refugee status, people are not allowed to work meaning they have no money to save, and once they receive status they have just 28 days to evacuate government housing, find a job and find somewhere to live. This has resulted in extreme levels of poverty and homelessness among refugees living in the UK. 

It is not right that this happens in a developed nation. I began helping people early in their journeys, where you think refugees face the most hardship. My main and only goal was getting people to safety. I did not for one second consider that once they had arrived on land that their hardships would continue, especially in countries like the UK. It is easy to stand in our position of privilege and to see these people as nothing more than statistics, but this has led to a dangerous discourse. This can be seen with the Brexit debates, which have led to anti-immigration rhetoric, resulting in many people who seek to live, continue to die. 

Moving on to the next step of my journey, I hope to take with me what I have learned both from my time in the Med and from my experience with the Scottish Refugee Council. Lesvos has taken in 379,000 arrivals so far this year; desperate people are continuing to arrive at a rate of 3,300 per day, with shipwrecks and sea incidents happening daily. My job will be on both land and sea, meaning I  will witness the lives of those living in the refugee camps whilst seeing the impact on a country which takes in far more people than the UK. 

Look out for a future blog from Jim about his time in Greece helping refugees arriving in the country. 

Chris Pettigrew
Author: Chris Pettigrew