Jonathan Bartley: I’m a proud citizen of the world and in 2017 I’m going to act like one

Trump's presidency makes it more important than ever to stand with refugees

Image: Pete Lopeman

Last year, Theresa May said that ‘if you think you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere’.

More than half the world disagrees with her. For the first time ever, a majority of the global population think of themselves as being a citizen of the world, above being a citizen of their country. In fact, people got so upset about May’s comment, that she had to clumsily disassociate herself from it earlier this month.

I’m not surprised that people felt affronted. I am a proud citizen of the world, and I know that billions of others are too. In a world with problems which don’t respect borders, it makes less and less sense to drive divisions between ourselves and our neighbours. We need to build bridges not walls.

Sadly, you wouldn’t think it when you look around the political landscape today. In just a few hours time, a racist, misogynist bully will be sworn in as the president of the United States of America. And the worst part? He’s not even that out of the ordinary at the moment.

Trump is just the most extreme example of the normalisation of xenophobia, division and hatred which is rapidly seeping through all political discourse.

Here in the UK, May set out her plan to leave the European Union earlier this week. During her speech, she blamed migrants for problems ranging from the NHS crisis, to low wages, to the lack of housing.

This is just par for course for political speeches in 2017, and gets passed over without much fuss. But it is simply false. Migrants are not to blame for our collapsing public sector and economy. If anything, they’re propping it up. The Government’s cuts and its blind allegiance to a failing economic model are to blame.

This line of thinking has become so ubiquitous that you can’t even count on Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour to stand up for migrants any longer. They’ve succumbed to the narrative too: giving up on the principle of free movement, while posing as a so-called opposition to the Tories’ hard Brexit.

We saw Ed Miliband cave in with his ghastly mugs, and now we see that Corbyn isn’t above capitulating to the politics of division either, and at a time when hate is on the rise.

This isn’t just rhetoric. This narrative costs lives. Here is a stark example: We are living through the worst refugee crisis since World War Two, but the world’s response to it has been shameful. In 2016 alone, more than 5,000 people died while trying to reach Europe. These were people fleeing war, torture and persecution, but we let them drown and bulldozed their camps, rather than offer them the support and compassion they desperately needed.

There are different versions of this story, however.

We learned this month that one in ten people in Germany are actively involved with volunteering work to help refugees. This is an astonishing number. And it begs the question: When we have such clear evidence of a European population’s willingness to welcome refugees, why do we see such relentless capitulation to the anti-refugee narrative from such massive sections of political debate and the media? There are so many more people to reach.

Could the UK population support fellow citizens of the world, in the same way that we’re seeing in Germany? We could certainly do a lot more.

We’re currently around 40th in the world, when it comes to taking in Syrian refugees as a percentage of population. And we also happen to be the fifth richest country in the world. It’s clear to me that our government needs to get serious about facing up to the scale of this crisis.

If there’s one good thing about the horror show of seeing Trump going into the White House, it’s that it’s made millions of people more determined than ever to stand in solidarity with people affected by the politics of hate. People like refugees.

That’s why I joined activists in Bristol today as part of the massive wave of Bridges Not Walls actions, where hundreds of people came together to send messages of hope, in defiance of the rise of the far-right.

And I’m excited to be launching a Green Party campaign to support refugees in our local communities, and get thousands more resettled here in the UK. It’s going to take time, but I really believe we can shift the narrative around migrants and refugees. Together, we can put an end to the politics of hate.

I’m a proud citizen of the world. And in 2017, I’m going to do my best to act like one.

Jonathan Bartley is co-leader of the Green Party 

See also: Bridges not Walls: Activists protest Trump inauguration with banner drops

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