On Finding a Place for Refugees

There’s a good reason I don’t read the news. I’m much happier when I don’t. It’s a bit escapist I know but I prefer to live in a world where I can dwell on kindness, beauty and humanity. The blueness of the sky today; the friendly parish curate who knocked on the door to inform me it was the turn of our street to be in the parish’s prayers this week; a loving family and a home; I have access to education and a health service; I have lived in peace.  I am lucky I know that and I am grateful for my good fortune. Look everywhere away from the media and I can find human kindness and comfort in hundreds of similar ordinary and humble lives and moments.

When I read the news I feel exposed en masse to a much crueller, darker vision of humanity.   I see that we have become people whose borders extend to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and people who retreat from helping migrants and refugees drowning in those waters. It makes me feel cold and sick to think that what is a popular holiday destination for many of us in Europe is a mass graveyard for many others. Surely my local parish should pray for all of these people and all of us who through apathy or prejudice think that this is humane or moral or simply shrug and walk on the other side. Our politics has become so toxic that a serious, compassionate and intelligent conversation about migration (including how to better support emigration as well as understanding immigration) and refugees seems impossible.

We seem to be unable to tell the difference between a virus , such as Ebola, and poor or desperate people treating both as a contagion that must be destroyed at our borders.   We seem to be punishing refugees for being rational and escaping war for a better life.  So much for enlightenment.  Some migrants may prefer Europe but I suspect for many the appeal is simply Europe isn’t war torn  and that it is the war and atrocity refugees flee from more than the promise of menial work and a life of otherness in Europe if they are rescued that motivates migrants onto the seas.

The government is probably right that resources are not infinite and much of Europe is stretched and that there probably are better ways of supporting refugees by turning their countries of origin into better places to live rather than war torn hellholes and tackling the complex and pernicious networks of criminality that will happily trade in human misery for a profit or cruel purpose. Austerity and difficulty is not an excuse for moral bankruptcy though.

I do not know what these more effective ways are. The government must do more to tell us what is being done about these ‘push’ factors, some of which we may be complicit in, if it is to coldly and brutally talk of the withdrawal of pull factors. What are these bright ideas? When will they work? I still find it hard to accept we should knowingly let people drown in the meantime if we can prevent that.

How do we do better?

At the same time, without irony, there were many reports in the media concerning the Czech Republic honouring Nicholas Winton for his acts of huge compassion and humility. For many years he never told anyone about his efforts from 1938, when aged just 29, to rescue over 600 children, refugees  from impending persecution and war.

“I thank the British people for making room for them, to accept them, and of course the enormous help given by so many of the Czechs”

– Nicholas Winton via BBC

Listening to him speak made me cry.  There are, or at least there used to be, reasons to be proud and hopeful and believe there may be better ways forward than this.  We seem to be stuck in a cult of remembrance whilst forgetting the very acts and values those people should be remembered for.  Mr Winton’s MP is Theresa May who is responsible for our borders.  I know which person, which people I would prefer to be.  T

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