Why Yorkshire food company Heck is right to highlight role refugees could play in economic recovery - Greg Wright

PEOPLE fleeing persecution can power an economy to recovery during times of upheaval.
A young boy pulls a suitcase as refugees arrive from Afghanistan at Heathrow Airport, London. Picture: PAA young boy pulls a suitcase as refugees arrive from Afghanistan at Heathrow Airport, London. Picture: PA
A young boy pulls a suitcase as refugees arrive from Afghanistan at Heathrow Airport, London. Picture: PA

That’s why a humane and sensible proposal made by Yorkshire businessman Andrew Keeble merits close attention.

Faced with a staffing crisis, which raises the spectre of food shortages at Christmas, Mr Keeble has suggested that the Government should fast-track the processing of refugees, because “if these guys want work, then we have it for them”.

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Mr Keeble, who founded the food company Heck, is facing staff shortages and urgently needs to fill roles across dispatch, distribution, and marketing. He’s not alone. Companies across a wide range of sectors are finding it hard to secure staff in order to supply the goods and services we all take for granted.

The crisis in Afghanistan has placed the spotlight on the plight of the world’s refugees.

The Government has launched a plan dubbed Operation Warm Welcome to help Afghans and their families rebuild their lives in the UK.

The Government said this is part of efforts to “ensure that those who worked closely with the British military and UK Government in Afghanistan, and risked their lives in doing so, get the vital health, education, support into employment and accommodation they need to fully integrate into society.”

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Past waves of refugees have unquestionably enriched British society. Digging deep into The Yorkshire Post archives, I came across an article from the historian Norman Lebrecht, which is as relevant today as when it was written in 2003.

Britain has a noble tradition of providing shelter for people who have been forced to leave their homeland. The Huguenots escaped Catholic massacres in France; the French nobility retreated from the threat of the guillotine; the Russian middle-classes from the ruthlessness of Lenin.

To quote Mr Lebrecht’s article: “Between 1933 and 1939, Britain admitted 60,000 fugitives of Nazi persecution from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia; most, but not all, were Jews. After 1945, we admitted thousands of stateless people;..

“Those refugees had no choice. To have stayed put would have meant certain death. To go elsewhere was impossible. The US Congress imposed tough quotas on European immigration. Canada, in its vastness, admitted the grand total of 82 Austrian Jews in 1938-39.

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“The benefits of British liberalism were soon apparent,’’ Mr Lebrecht recalled. “Britain became a cultural powerhouse, Canada remained a backwater. Refugee scientists helped win us the war, emigre inventors re-booted the economy. I grew up among people who got up every morning thanking Britain, in guttural accents, for their lives and wondering how they could repay the debt.”

According to Philippe Legrain the founder of the Open Political Economy Network (OPEN), who is a senior Visiting Fellow at the European Institute at the London School of Economics, refugees are not a burden but an opportunity.

In an article, which can be found at www.oecd.org, Mr Legrain cites the case of the Vietnamese “boat people” who fled their country in the late 1970s and sought refuge in the US and other countries. Most arrived speaking little or no English and with few assets or relevant job skills. Today Vietnamese refugees are more likely to be employed and have higher incomes than people born in the US.

In Britain, charities and officials have regarded the Syrian resettlement scheme as a success.

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A total of 20,080 Syrian refugees have started a new life in the UK since 2015 as a result, according to figures published earlier this year.

Those who were escaping conflict in Syria were assisted by the Government as part of its work with the UNHCR to identify people, including women and children at risk and victims of torture.

The lessons from history are clear; refugees, in general, embrace the country that provides them with salvation. They become loyal and diligent workers, and over time, civic leaders and entrepreneurs. Opening our homes and hearts to strangers always pays dividends.

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