Cheltenham will soon be welcoming some heroes to town as new residents. These new Cheltonians hail from a long way away and they’ve earned their place here. They’re the brave translators who have for years been helping our armed forces in Afghanistan.
As part of a national scheme, Cheltenham has agreed to welcome seven translators and their families. They need a place to live because they’re no longer safe in their home country. Their work for UK armed forces has made them a target for terrorists and extremists who reject the notions of democracy, women’s rights and other freedoms that the population of Afghanistan has been struggling to gain and retain since the war started almost two decades ago.
It would be easy to get distracted in this debate by the rights and wrongs of the UK’s involvement in Afghanistan. In the case of these translators, that’s not the point. They put the lives of themselves and their families at risk to help our country. Now they are in danger and need our help. Looking after them is the right thing to do and I’m pleased Cheltenham, and the rest of the county, is taking part.
Our country has a proud history of helping those in need, but sadly that tradition is under threat. While these translators will benefit from a safe place to live, our collective ability to help in future is being eroded. That’s because new laws being proposed by our government won’t just criminalise refugees and asylum seekers fleeing war-torn places and coming to the UK, the new laws will criminalise British people trying to help them find safe passage.
It’s worth considering what might have happened if these laws had been in place during the 1930s, when Jewish people were fleeing violent oppression in Europe. Some might say that there aren’t parallels in 2021. However, it doesn’t take much searching to find news about people around the world being mistreated, or even put to death, because of their religion, ethnicity, sexuality or other characteristics.
Matters of immigration and asylum are rarely easy to resolve, but the guiding principles must be compassion for our fellow human beings. Groups like Cheltenham Welcomes Refugees and many of our local churches are doing so much already and they deserve our thanks and applause. Cheltenham has backed them by declaring Town of Sanctuary status and we can always do more. The resettlement of Afghan translators is the right thing to do and our local councils should be applauded for being part of it. But the drive for harsher treatment of refugees and asylum seekers by our government - the world’s most vulnerable people – must end. We should all reflect on whether we can accept these actions being taken in our name.