Britain has done so much for me - I just need one thing more

Like so many millions of people in this country I was horrified by that picture of a little Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach last week.  And since then I’ve been very moved by the public’s response, not just in support of Syrian refugees but others such as Iraqis too. It’s really touched my heart because I am an Iraqi refugee who was resettled to the UK five years ago with the help of Refugee Action.  

In Iraq I had been working as an interpreter for British forces.  I took the job because I needed to support my family.  But it was very dangerous.  In one instance, seventeen of my colleagues, travelling home together from an army base, were kidnapped and executed.  Militants used brutal methods to deter people - those who didn’t stop were killed. The security situation got so bad that in the end I applied for resettlement and in 2012 I was accepted. 

I will always be grateful to Britain for welcoming me, my wife and two daughters. But we are just the tip of the iceberg. Many more families in Syria and Iraq are in need. Sadly only a small number of refugees are resettled here - fewer than a thousand a year from around the world, and only a couple of hundred from the recent Syrian conflict. Meanwhile the UNHCR, who along with Refugee Action helped me to resettle, estimates that nearly a million other people are in need of resettlement worldwide. Even with the recent announcement from the government the scale of resettlement in Britain is small. 

I would like to think that my adopted country Britain could do more to help.  But for that to happen the huge outpouring of support for refugees from members of the public in recent days needs to be maintained.  

Where I live in Greater Manchester, and across the country, lots of people have been phoning refugee charities pledging money, or offering to donate food and clothes, or even saying they’ll take refugees into their own homes.  These are wonderful signs of support and I hope they will continue. But if there’s one thing I would ask people to do now it is to take part in Saturday’sNational Day of Action in solidarity with refugees.

There’s a big march in London – which I will be travelling to from Manchester. And there are similar events taking place in many other cities and towns around the country.  If, as I hope, there is a big turn out and lots of support from people on social media it will send a powerful signal to the government that Britain wants to show more compassion to people fleeing Syria, Eritrea, Iraq and other conflict zones.  

Every single person who takes part on Saturday will be making a difference.  So if you care about refugees and want Britain to do more, nothing else you are thinking of doing on Saturday matters more than joining the Day of Action. 

For more information about the Solidarity with Refugees demo in London:

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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