“My Dutch mum fled her home in fear in 1944.” Letter to Derek Thomas MP

Official portrait of Derek Thomas MP Wikimedia Commons

Dear Derek,

I have skin in this game.

My Mum was a young girl in Driebergen, Holland, in 1939 when the Germans came.
She and hundreds of thousands of civilians packed what they could and took to the roads. You’ll have seen the harrowing photos of endless lines of haggard, terrified refugees, stretching as far as the eye can see, trying to escape the fighting. They returned eventually, the village was unharmed, and she lived for years under German occupation.

In 1944 the Germans came again. This time it was different. Her family was given no time to pack, no time to get papers together, they escaped with just the clothes on their backs. Mum had a run-in with some soldiers. I can’t write it, but I think you can imagine. Again, on the road. Again, terrified. Homeless. Hiding in forests, crawling beneath searchlights to dig up frozen potatoes, dodging the, by now, very scared and trigger-happy soldiers.

Eventually the family returned, lived through D-Day and the ensuing carnage, and were liberated by the advancing American troops.

So I know exactly what it’s like to have to leave your home, your life, your world, and run. The stories she and her family told made my blood turn to ice.

Fast forward to 2022 – Ukrainian refugees. Who could have imagined history would repeat itself?

The EU has waived visa requirements. You can stay for three years without documents. Trust me – when the soldiers come you’re not going to ask them to please wait while you go home and find your family’s papers.

Ireland has opened its doors. Holland has. Everyone else has.

We haven’t.

I am sick to my stomach.

One minister even tweeted that refugees should apply for a temporary fruit-picking visa. In February? I’m not a farmer, but I can’t think of any fruit-picking jobs at this time of year. That MP deleted his tweet.

Refugees need – deserve – all the help we, as a supposedly civilized nation, can give. Please lobby your colleagues, lobby ministers, even Ms Patel if she listens to you. Put no barriers up. Let these poor, poor people in.

I’m so glad my Mum is no longer with us, you’d be reading her letter rather than mine otherwise and I promise you, she really wouldn’t have held back! You judge a society not by how it treats the most successful, but by how it treats the most vulnerable.

Those old black and white photos are in colour now, but the human misery is unchanged. Let them in. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s the only thing to do.

Chris Foden