Why it is time to stop portraying refugees as simply victims and give them greater respect and humanity - Mark Casci

The story of Yana Smaglo in today’s edition of The Yorkshire Post sounds like it should come from the World War II era, rather than 2022.

At the start of the year Ms Smaglo was running a successful female fashion and beauty business in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev.

However, with the onset of Russian President’s Vladimir Putin’s brutal war, Ms Smaglo was forced to flee.

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Like so many thousands of other Ukrainians she left with only a handful of possessions.

Yana Smaglo has fled Ukraine to Huddersfield where she is seeking to build a new life.

Travelling first to Poland and then on to Yorkshire, her life was upended in a matter of days, just one of the many, many such people to become victim of Putin’s diabolical barbarism.

And it is testament to her’s and the Ukrainian spirit that she now wants to set down roots here and once again run her own business.

Ms Smaglo wants to open a retail and wholesale store to represent Ukrainian brands here in the UK.

She wants to provide work for her fellow Ukrainians back home as well as fellow refugees here in Britain.

Putin's barbarism has displaced thousands.

This pursuit is laudable and Ms Smaglo deserves every opportunity to make this aspiration a reality.

Her bravery in speaking out also serves a wider purpose.

Amid the Ukraine conflict, as well as the Government’s preposterous plan to process asylum seekers in Rwanda and in Linton-on-Ouse, the narrative around refugees has become lost and blurred.

Moreover it too often portrays them solely as victims.

Ukrainians have been forced to flee.

While it is true that refugees have been victimised, be it in terms of their physical safety or their economic status, this should never define them as human beings.

Take as just one instance the considered words of Ms Smaglo in her interview with this newspaper: “You have to understand Ukrainian culture. People from Ukraine work a lot and work hard all the time.

“I know some people who are hosted here in Huddersfield from Ukraine and the first question from those people was ‘where can we find a job’?

“I’ve never lived for government payments. I’ve worked all my life.

“I want to be part of this country and be useful.

“I know the more taxes I pay, the better my life will be - from the medical system to better transport.

“This is how an economy works. It’s a simple thing.”

These words are from a person who fled her home with barely anything, who currently has no residence of her own and no means of surviving without Government assistance.

There is no self pity, only a desire to contribute and be useful.

And while I have no doubt that Ms Smaglo would never wish to see herself as a spokesperson for all refugees, I would state with some confidence that her attitude and ambition for life in Britain is matched by most if not all of those arriving in Britain seeking sanctuary from war, persecution and poverty.

While we should not lose sight of the horrific circumstances that prompt people to flee to Britain, we should not view them entirely through this prism, as if all that defines them as people is their bad luck.

Britain has welcomed refugees for many, many years. Whether fleeing persecution from the Nazis or war-torn former Yugoslavia, or economic deprivation all over the world, Britain became a sanctuary for these people offering opportunities and protections they would not be able to access in their country of origin.

It is a pattern told and retold throughout families over decades, in every community of Yorkshire and beyond.

In return for refuge, these people worked incredibly hard, started businesses, created jobs, sent their children to school and became as central a part of British society as anyone living in it.

Ms Smaglo will doubtless become just one more example of this. I urge anyone with means to help fund her new venture.

It will be a success and help shift the narrative around refugees, in such a manner that gives them greater humanity, value and respect.