Refugees / Migrants… we’re all human
So I was going to write an article about the stacker ring collection I’ve accumulated, but I think I’ll save that for another day. Because there is a bigger issue at large, which has been going on for too long. For months, I’d been watching images of Rohingya refugees, stranded in the ocean near Malaysia with nowhere to go.
Yes, my heart poured out, but what could I do? It was so far away, and the people who were starved and desperate were so transient so I didn’t know where and how to offer help. So as with the Gaza crisis of last year, I mourned and lamented the situation for a while and shared the odd Facebook post. Then, as time has an amazing way of healing, it also lets us forget. And life moves on.
For as long as I can remember there seems to have been some kind of human catastrophe somewhere. As a child, I remember filling up shoeboxes with old clothes and toys for Operation Christmas Child. The boxes were shipped to Bosnia for children ‘less fortunate than myself’ my teacher would say.
Then of course there is the annual Comic Relief, where for one night we’re tortured with pictures of starving African children and asked to donate to make ourselves feel better. I donated a few times, felt like I’d done something, and then of course moved on.
But more recently, the refugee crisis, which has involved Syria as well as people escaping persecution from other countries, is harder to forget and impossible to ignore. We’ve seen the pictures of carnage at Calais, we’ve heard David Cameron refer to refugees as ‘swarms’. For months now, these people were called migrants – a term used for people who are moving to a country for work or other economic means – until an outcry on social media put paid to this.
The ‘migrants’ were initially depicted as nuisances. They were pictured as foreign savages ruining our holidays by blocking up Dover. Lorry drivers were properly pissed off, and the real headline was how much the haulage industry was suffering financially due to these annoying brown people blocking up our channel tunnel.
We have become desensitised to such imagery. For as long as I can remember, footage of Arabs shouting in the street, Libyan rebels brandishing guns and the Taliban / Al Kaeda / ISIS terrorising communities have been on our TV screens and in our newspapers. Civilian deaths in the Middle East were so frequent that they were reduced to numbers. And when the numbers got too big, they were rounded up to estimates.
The so called ‘migrant crisis’ story could have followed suit, personifying David Cameron’s ‘swarm’ description. People were dying in lorries, many had drowned. But it wasn’t on our doorstep. It was far away and there wasn’t much we could do. But whatever the terminology, label or angle the politicians or media would like to spin, the human cost is the same.
Thanks to some heart-wrenching photography, we were finally allowed to see some pictured reminding us that these people aren’t actually migrants. In fact they’re not even primarily refugees. First and foremost they are human, like you and me.
Yes, they may hail from another land where bombings, killings and violence are portrayed in the media as being a part of everyday life. But ultimately, they are human. They grieve, and they feel pain.
It wasn’t the picture of the three year old boy washed up on the shore of Bodrum that moved me so much. The lump in my throat came weeks before, after seeing a picture of a grown man crying as he came to shore in Greece, cradling his young children.
It was the human face of the conflict. A face of desperation. A face of a man who has been through trauma and seen things you cannot imagine. A man who has experienced the kind of conflict we couldn’t comtemplate with our all-consuming first-world problems. A picture that politicians would have perhaps preferred us not to see. One that went global. What is more harrowing, is that we still don’t know whether this man and his family made it safely to where he so desperately needed to be.
The picture was etched in my mind, and the feeling of injustice that happens in this world time and time again, was just, shit.
I made some enquiries into how to help refugees, and prayed for the day that they’d arrive in the UK so that I could give clothes, blankets, toiletries, whatever basic necessities would help.
But before that day came, we had to see a dead boy washed up on European shores. A boy that represented many dying at sea and in the back of lorries. Herded like cattle and risking life and limb, these humans were treated with anything but humanity.
And it took the picture of the dead little boy, and the ensuing international outcry, to force the UK to take more action.
So David Cameron is now pledging to help more refugees. The positive in this whole tragedy is that everyone I know has expressed grief and distress at the sight of this poor boy. And this has set in motion action.
Unlike the Rohingya refugee crisis in Asia, what is happening now is on our doorstep. People are desperate to come to the UK. Many are camped in Calais. And a whole bunch of grassroots organisations have spring up ready to drive down and cross the border to deliver goods to those desperately in need. So there is something that every one of us can do to help. I’ve been scouring the internet for local groups to donate to, and I personally feel they’re a much better option than the larger, bureaucracy-ridden NGOs out there.
And I plan to spend the weekend gathering the things that I’ve been hoarding but never will use, to give to any group that will be going to Calais.
This won’t make the sick-to-the-pit-of-my-stomach feeling go away, and it shouldn’t. Donating toys might not bring Aylan back, but it might bring a smile to another child’s face. And while we grieve for Aylan, a boy from Syria that we never knew, there are many more that will need our help. Because they’re not just a number, they’re like you and me.
If you too have been moved by the crisis, the article from the Independent may prove useful: