John Barnes: ‘Why do we accept Ukrainians but not people from Syria and Iraq?’

12 March 2023, 12:07

John Barnes and Andrew Castle disagree over attitudes to refugees in the UK

By Ellen Morgan

Former England footballer John Barnes thinks the UK considers certain groups of refugees to be “more worthy” than others.

In a heated discussion with Andrew Castle, he accused the Prime Minister of wanting fewer refugees arriving in the UK on small boats, but not opening up “a safe and legal route for them to come.”

When questioned by Andrew about the public’s fears and concerns about refugees coming to the UK, John Barnes quickly asked “are we worried about Ukrainians coming over?”

“We seem to accept them – but that’s going to be a strain on the economy,” he added.

He emphasised that “some people are considered to be more worthy than others,” asking why language of “rapists, murderers and criminals” for those who come to the UK from Syria and Iraq but is rarely heard when describing Ukrainians.

Andrew then wanted his opinion on people who’ve taken Ukrainian refugees into their homes, asking if John Barnes thought there was a bias at play.

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He responded that the British public feels more “empathy” towards Ukrainian people, asking: “how many people have opened their houses to women and children who are coming from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan?”

When asked by Andrew to clarify whether he was saying people who’ve housed Ukrainian refugees are “prejudiced,” John Barnes told him to ask them whether they would accept a Syrian or Iraqi family into their home.

Andrew then told John about the Ukrainian family living with him and asked again whether the former footballer was accusing individuals like him of “bias.”

John Barnes clarified that he thought Andrew and his family had shown “empathy,” but wanted them to interrogate why this is extended to certain groups of refugees and not others. Andrew responded that the Homes for Ukraine scheme launched last year following Russia’s invasion meant the public were easily able to take in people who needed accommodation.

“Did I know about Syrians, Iraqis and Yemenis? Less so. But that doesn’t mean I should be negatively judged.”

John Barnes then reassured Andrew that his criticism wasn’t directed at him personally; rather he thought it was important to consider why news stories about the suffering of Ukrainians has resonated with the British public more than that of Syrians and Iraqis.