It’s a rarity for me to comment on politics and world events, but this is one of those occasions where I find it hard to stay silent. I’m not one for confrontation and avoid it wherever possible, so this blog post is my way of reasoning out a rational monologue about the news that has been dominating the headlines for much of the last week and how I feel about the things I’m hearing from the people around me.
I think the first thing to clarify is that there is a massive difference between a refugee and an economic migrant and for some reason it seems like a large percentage of the population just aren’t grasping that. The people you’re seeing on the news are not people trying to get into the country to “claim benefits” or “get council houses”; they’re not coming here “to steal your jobs” to send money home to their families (I’ll deal with how wrong those statements are another time); these are people fleeing from war torn countries in search of safety.
The following are all statements I’ve heard in the last few days from various people I know, mostly on social media outlets:
“Well maybe if some of them stayed home instead of running away all the time they might be able to fix their problems”
“We can’t afford to help ourselves, so why should we have to bail them out?”
“They’re just coming here to get handouts”
“Why is it always Britain that has to fix everyone else’s problems? It’s not up to us to fix Syria.”
“It’s not our problem.”
“We don’t want the kind of people in our country that let their kids drown while they get to shore”
“They should have stopped in the first country, as per the Schengen Agreement. I don’t see why anyone should be entitled to come here.”
Rightly or wrongly, I feel ashamed of my fellow human beings for uttering any and all of the above sentences. One of the things that defines our humanity is our propensity for altruism. Throughout century upon century of human history, our lives have been enriched by the actions of those who gave of what they had to others who had less. You can call upon any number of parables from any religious text, and any number of child’s stories and fables that weigh up a moral balance between self-preservation and altruism to support that. We are raised from childhood to be kind, and yet somehow it seems to have all drained away. It’s my experience that the above statements are the prevailing attitude in this area.
I keep coming back to the same thing – yes, we might be struggling financially. Yes, services are stretched, but we still have more than the refugees coming in, who quite literally have nothing but the rags on their backs, and that makes it a moral obligation for us to help where we can.
If that argument doesn’t sway you, then imagine yourself in their shoes. Imagine that the British government is made up of a tyrannical, megalomaniac, religious fanatic dictator who has no compunction about mass genocide, and his cronies and ‘yes men’. Imagine that your home town or city has been bombed to pieces, all homes and services destroyed like in the above picture of Damascus. Imagine that gangs of state sanctioned mercenaries are dragging people out of their houses in your neighbourhood and executing them in the street on the grounds of religious or ethnic identity, without evidence or hesitation. Your neighbours are dead. The kids your children went to school with are dead. The shops are all destroyed and you don’t know where to go for food because you’re scared that if you step out of your front door you’ll get shot.
To those of you who think the general populace should stay and fight, sort their own problems out – would you know where to get a gun under these circumstances? Would you have the faintest idea how to hide or defend yourself? How long do you think you’d survive without food, water, electricity and shelter? Beyond that, do you think you’d be able to gather up your fellow countrymen and women and lead them through hostile territory to a heavily fortified city to take down the government? Because if you don’t think you could manage it, how in the hell do you think the refugees should? These aren’t soldiers. They’re teachers, doctors, housewives and children, all running scared. They’re certainly no match for a state run army.
So you run, along with hundreds of thousands of your fellow British people. You get to the English Channel. There are dozens of people commandeering boats on the promise of safety and refuge being found on the other side. Your first ports of call are France and Germany and you take your family toward that promised land in the hopes that you’ll be able to feed and clothe and shelter them. A mile from shore, the boat capsizes. It’s at night. Chaos reigns. People are in the water all around you, screaming and grasping. You can’t see anything in the waves and if you don’t get away from the boat, you’ll get dragged down. The water is bitterly cold and you’re not a great swimmer. What do you do? Do you float around in circles until exhaustion pulls you under, looking for your kids, or do you search as best you can and then head for shore, hoping that your partner or another refugee will have kept hold of them or that they’ll have set out for shore themselves? And think carefully – because if, after all of this, you choose to live instead of dying while searching, the country at the other side will turn you away because they don’t want people like you in their society.
You choose to live and are washed up on the shore. When you arrive there you are funnelled into a massively overcrowded tent city that is struggling to provide food and shelter. It’s coming up to winter and it’s cold at night. If your children survived the boat trip, they are starving and you’re scared they’re going to catch a disease because the refugee camp is rife with them as a result of inadequate sanitation. What do you do? Stick it out because some “Agreement” says you have to register there? Or do you set out in the night to find somewhere safer?
You set out for somewhere safer and finally come to a country where the vast majority of the population have rooves over their heads and food on their tables. They have a free healthcare system, however damaged it is, and a functioning, democratic government. You knock on the metaphorical door of that country and they slam it in your face because, frankly, chum, you’re not their damn problem.
You’re hundreds of miles from home. You’ve lost everything. You and your family are starving, the ones that survived the journey, anyway. You’re scared, cold and tired and there’s nowhere else to go. You can’t get in and you can’t go back.
That’s what being a refugee feels like.
This is a human crisis that needs to be dealt with humanely and, in preserving these selfish attitudes, I feel like so much of society has lost its humanity. Because that’s what it is at a base level – selfishness; refusing to share your good fortune with others. And if you don’t think your current situation warrants the term “good fortune” ask yourself – do you have a roof over your head? Are you warm and well fed? Has anyone pointed a gun at you or bombed your house recently? Then yes, you have good fortune in comparison to all of those hundreds of thousands of refugees.
I fully agree with David Cameron when he says that in order to halt the crisis, we need to tackle the root cause of the problem. It’s not a question of Britain or the UN always stepping in to fix other countries’ problems. If that’s what you think, you’re not looking at the big picture. The refugee crisis is OUR problem, morally and politically. It’s EVERYONE’s problem who has the capacity to take in refugees. That makes the root cause of their flight from their home nation our problem too. It’s simple cause and effect.
So if you’re sitting in your warm living room this evening, with your feet up in front of the telly after a home cooked meal and you want to switch the news over because you’re tired of hearing about refugees and you’re fed up with them coming into your country and taking your money, do us all a favour and try to imagine yourself walking a mile in their shoes and maybe you’ll learn some compassion.