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16 September 2016

Shazia Mirza on the culture of hate: “Once we blamed Yoko Ono. Now we blame refugees”

The stand-up comedian known for her dead-pan delivery of jokes about Islamic State slams the government’s attitude towards people fleeing conflict.

By Shazia Mirza

Hate and lies are all the rage. Everyone’s at it. “Obama is the founder of ISIS!” and everyone believes the Trump. “We’re at breaking point” – look, here’s a poster of lots of brown men that look just like your dad, cousin and brother. If you vote out, all these scavengers that come over here for the good life, they’ll be gone in the morning.

Hate is fashionable. It’s flourishing in the comments section of the Daily Mail, Facebook, and this morning I saw some photographs on Twitter of Madonna’s cellulite with the comment: “I thought grandma had died of AIDS.”

When people are unhappy, discontent and disillusioned with their own life, they want someone to blame. Once we blamed Yoko Ono. Now we blame refugees. They caused Brexit; they are destroying the NHS, housing, transport, and education.  They can’t seem to do any good or make any valuable contribution.

Well, some people might be surprised to hear that Syrian refugees are not coming to Britain for the food, weather and £65.45 a week, which couldn’t even get you a night out at the cinema. They’re not coming because they want to find Harry Potter, drink tea and watch drunk people rolling down every high street looking for their teeth on a Friday night.

No. These people want to live.

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When I was a teacher, I taught in some very challenging schools where a lot of the children had difficult and unstable parents. But no matter how awful their parents, the child always wanted to remain with them. They would rather be with their own volatile parent than with a kind, caring stranger.

Refugees would love to remain in their homeland. The place they know and where their family life has been. But they are forced to leave out of desperation.

They are fleeing Islamic State, bombardment from government forces, and also from conflicts and dictatorships in other countries such as Sudan and Ethiopia.

In Jordan, many refugees have lost free access to healthcare. Almost 60 per cent of adults with chronic conditions are now forced to survive without medicine. Refugees in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt say cuts like these leave them little choice but to leave.

Zeina, a Syrian woman who I heard about through the joint work of charities CARE International and Women for Refugee Women, arrived in Greece from Turkey in March 2016. She said she left Syria because, “there is no life there – only war, bombs, and the fear of death or losing someone you care about”.

She went on to tell her story: “I have been helping with translation between refugees. A Kurdish woman and myself were some of the only people who spoke English and the languages of other refugees. I worked 16 hours a day for 15 days there [at the refugee camp].

“Just because I am a refugee I am not allowed to express myself. But I didn’t want to be silent. When one camp official tried to take my stove away, I challenged her. She started saying, ‘be grateful, at least you have a room and a bed…’ Yet our rooms were without mattresses – we were sleeping on wooden floors.

“I told her: ‘In Syria, we had houses and beds. You don’t have the right to speak to me like this. We are not animals from the desert. We are humans like you. If you look at me with sympathy or racism – either way is bad. I don’t like it either way. We just want to be treated like humans, not animals in a cage.’”

It’s like when you’re standing on a packed bus with arthritis, in the boiling heat after work and someone tells you to be grateful you actually made the bus. It doesn’t mean anything to you, you are tired, in pain, and you just want to sit down.

The refugee situation has become a part of everyone’s life. These people, especially women and children, who suffer most in war, are running from real danger.

They want to live and they are coming to Europe, but often find themselves trapped in terrible conditions. This crisis is affecting everyone. We are being forced to question everything about ourselves: our resources, our culture, our values, religion, our charity.

Governments need to stop blaming refugees and migrants for economic and social problems and instead combat xenophobia and racial discrimination. All this hatred just stirs up tensions, fear of foreigners and divisions, which is not what this country is about. We were so open to refugees in the Thirties and Forties during that war. We’ve gone backwards now. What happened?

Shazia Mirza is a stand-up comedian and is currently touring with “The Kardashians Made Me Do It”, her show about IS and Jihadi brides. Mirza is supporting CARE and Women for Refugee Women’s calls for protection for refugee women at the global refugee summit.

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