As the refugee crisis continues, opinions remain as divided as ever in the UK on the subject of immigration: close the borders and send them all back, or offer shelter and welcome them with open arms? As today marks International Migrants’ Day, we take a look at the story of two inspiring role models.

Mo Farah

With the benefit of hindsight, investing in a bunting business would have very much been the way forward in 2012. The British summer was marked with street parties and flag waving, and patriotism reached peaks not achieved since WW2, thanks to the success of the London Olympics. Even the deluge of rain that graced the Diamond Jubilee celebrations could not dampen the spirits of the great British public that summer.

And how proud we were of Team GB! How we cheered and leapt up and down in jubilation when one of our competitors crossed the line in medal winning style. How we revelled in the glory of those 65 podium moments (no less than 29 of which were Gold), waving our flags in patriotic support and cheering the success of these fine examples of British athleticism.

Yet, as debate continues to rage over whether Britain has room for any more immigrants, whether our society can cope with the additional strain on services, and whether those seeking refuge will be a drain on resources or an asset to our country, consider this. How many of those 65 medals would Team GB have won without input from naturalised migrants to the UK? And was the veritable machine behind creating London 2012 made up entirely of those only British born and bred? Of course not.

Mo Farah will not be the only role model from the London Olympics who illustrates this point, but he is a pretty compelling one. Mo was born in Somalia, and moved to Britain at the age of 8. He spent the remainder of his childhood and most of his adult life in the UK, although he relocated to the United States (where much of his training now takes place) in 2014. He is the most decorated person in British athletics history, with seven global titles, and was the first British athlete to win two gold medals at the same world championships. He is the most successful individual athlete in championships history and was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2013. Mo Farah has been very warmly embraced by his adopted country, Great Britain, (and quite right too, medals or no medals), not least since his historic double Olympic Gold win. Never mind bursting at the seams; Great Britain practically burst with pride when he crossed the line in first place on Super Saturday.

Malala Yousafzai

 For the average eighteen year old, the milestones are pretty universal. The ability to purchase alcohol (legally), the propensity to sleep in until 1pm, and an unwavering commitment to documenting every facet of life through social media. But Malala Yousafzai is not your average eighteen year old.

Malala arrived on British soil in 2012, at the age of 15. As a young girl growing up under a Taliban regime, Malala had to struggle to gain access to many privileges taken for granted by her peers in this country, such as the right to education. A bright and intelligent girl, she was raised with a keen interest in politics, and, when the BBC sought an anonymous schoolgirl to write a blog diarising life under the Taliban, Malala seized the opportunity. Inspired by her own father’s political activism, Malala campaigned openly against the Taliban regime, lobbying prominent global political figures for support and receiving awards and recognition for her efforts. As her public profile increased, she naturally fell under the radar of the Taliban, and by 2012 she was the recipient of regular death threats. The rest, as they say, is history. On 9th October that same year, Taliban gunmen boarded the bus on her journey home from school, called her out by name, and shot her in the face. Her injuries were life threatening, and placed her in a coma for several days. But the Taliban had unwittingly scored an own goal. Offers of medical support came flooding in from all corners of the globe, and the world was all the more united in defiance against the Taliban regime. Under a shower of media publicity, Malala arrived in the UK for specialist treatment in a Birmingham hospital. On her recovery, she and her family settled in the West Midlands and Malala continued her education, joining Edgbaston High School for Girls.

Malala achieved A’s and A*’s in her GCSE exams this year. And for most girls her age, this is the very definition of success. But Malala has achieved more in her eighteen years than most grown adults.   She has featured three years in a row in Time magazine’s list of “The 100 Most Influential People in the World”. She won Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize, and in 2013 she received the Sakharov Prize. Age 16, she spoke at the UN Headquarters to call for worldwide access to education, and also received Honorary Canadian citizenship, followed by an honorary doctorate from the University of King’s College in Halifax the following year. At the age of 17, Yousafzai became the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate. And while most of her peers celebrated their eighteenth birthdays with a large night out, Malala marked her big day by opening a school near the Syrian border (funded by the not-for-profit Malala Fund), for Syrian refugee girls aged 14 to 18 years. For all that Malala is a strident and outspoken young lady, she is also defined by her humility and grace.

If the world had turned its back on Malala, there is a fine chance she would not have survived her ordeal. Her strength and tenacity may have pulled her through, and she may even have been courageous enough to continue her political activism against the injustice of the Taliban regime. But their bullets would doubtless have won over her words in the end, and the world would not have benefitted from her influence.

It’s true, not every refugee and migrant will be a Mo or a Malala. But then, not every British native is either. And if even just a small shred of their drive, commitment and success is brought to our shores by today’s migrants needing our support, then surely Britain and the world at large might stand to benefit.


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