#RefugeesWelcome: Being Human Isn’t Illegal

imageIt’s rare that I comment or share opinion on political issues. I generally adopt what I would consider to be a liberal perspective on most things, and ultimately, I believe that everyone deserves the right to live how they choose in a safe, healthy and happy place.

As Europe is divided over the waves of thousands of refugees desperately fleeing war in Africa and the Middle East, there is one image that will forever stay in my mind – that of Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler whose body washed up on a Turkish beach on Tuesday. The picture has been beamed all over the world and has become a symbol for the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

As thousands are risking their lives on perilous boat journeys, existing in makeshift camps (with numbers on their arm – remind you of anything?), being forced off trains and are walking thousands of miles to find safety, my heart has been warmed by stories from all over the world by people who want to help. Last month, the Icelandic government capped its resettlement of Syrians at just 50 people. In response, a prominent Icelandic author, Bryndis Bjorgvindottir, began a campaign on Facebook to recruit hosts for families in need, and as a result nearly 12,000 Icelandic citizens have signed up with offers of accommodation, plane tickets and friendship. This is 5% of the population. More than 250,000 people in the UK have signed a petition calling for Britain to take it’s fair share after it was revealed that we accepted just 216 Syrians, (not enough to fill a carriage on the tube) and this has forced the government to respond with further offers of assistance. Citizens all over Europe are sending convoys of food and clothing and raising money.

As I write this on my iPad, while watching my television and surrounded by a warm and comfortable house filled with unnecessary possessions, I’m lucky in that I was born into a society where I was offered a good education, given health care when I have been sick and been provided with opportunities for a successful life. I’ve worked hard for it, yes, but I have never had to do any of it while fearing for my life, or the lives of my family and friends.

I can see how (even though I disagree with it) it is difficult not to be caught up in the thousands of negative reports and scare mongering that is shared in the media and across social networking sites on a daily basis. In a time of huge economic crisis, many are worried about the effect that an influx of refugees will have on our already stretched housing, education and health system, and lots of people have been quick to point out that millions of our own people are homeless, or live below the poverty line and rely on food banks to survive. I’ve seen hundreds of comments about immigrants sending money home instead of putting it back into the economy, and predictions of an increase in crime and assaults.

Unfortunately, there are also those who are just plain racist. In a world where the words ‘Muslim’ or ‘Islam’ are associated with ‘terrorist,’ lots are waxing lyrical about the bombing of our cities, building of more mosques and Islamic schools and trying to convert the UK to Sharia Law. Posters of ‘We’re full, don’t take your coat off’ have appeared in my Twitter feed more times than I can count. Delete, block. Delete, block.

It isn’t about Muslim or Christian. It isn’t about west or east. It is about compassion for people and basic human rights. We can and indeed, should take more refugees in. It isn’t their fault that our government wants to spend billions on the Trident nuclear programme, while systematically starving our NHS, councils and education services of funds. It isn’t their fault that the benefit system is in such a mess that many are allowed to abuse it while others in need are denied assistance. It isn’t their fault that not enough houses are being built and housing association rents are being cut. These people aren’t sponges, or looking for a free ride. They aren’t illegal.

Being human is not illegal.

This is not an issue that will go away by building a wall, or turning off the television. This is a global crisis, and people are dying. I’m proud that so many British citizens have stepped forward with their offers of support and donations, but we can always do more. For me, JK Rowling summed it up:


What do you think? Should we open our doors or will another influx of refugees further contribute to what is seen as the downfall of the country? Please note, any abusive or racist responses will be sent immediately to the trash…

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40 thoughts on “#RefugeesWelcome: Being Human Isn’t Illegal

  1. I agree wholeheartedly, especially since a lot of our actions as (countries from the west) have set a lot of these circumstances into motion from putting ourselves in the middle of political goings-on in these countries has set the reasons that refugees are running into motion, and no I don’t mean every country but making the area unstable is the tipping point that causes the strife to begin with because “we” think we know best for other people. I’m proud of you for writing this! Being human isn’t illegal!

  2. I think we should be ashamed of our politicians which, by view of our election process dictates we should be ashamed of ourselves. There will be another election eventually at which time we should all express our expectations very clearly and ensure that the politicians hear us. In the meantime, keep spreading the words “humane”, “humanity”, “love”, “compassion”, “understanding” …… and hopefully those who put conditions on their help of others will ease those conditions after all, don’t all major religions preach “love thy neighbour”?

  3. Thank you Suzie. I volunteer with asylum seekers. My mother took a family into her home (and then found them their own home which they secured with a reference from her). And yet that is so little. But if everyone did what they could, including demanding our government takes part in appropriate rescue and resettlement plans, we could save so many people. Praying we are better people tomorrow than we have been recently.

    • That ‘so little’ is huge. It is these small acts of humanity which make the big difference if enough people do what they can. Your mum rocks.

  4. I completely agree with you, Suzie. All EU countries should welcome the refugees. Today an acquaintance commented on the events saying “I sympathize with these people, but…” Nothing good can come after that but. I find it hard to believe that people cannot imagine themselves being in that situation. I find the answer so easy when I think what if this was me or my family. That’s what we should do.
    This is an important topic. Thank you for such a thoughtful, well-written post. J.K.Rowling rules.

  5. I’ve not seen the tv news or read a newspaper for the last 8 weeks – yes I suppose that could be construed as sticking my head in the sand but frankly I’d had enough. Yesterday I listened to the Jeremy Vine show on the radio and heard about the little boy found on a Turkish beach. Enough head-in-sand time, I went looking for the news and visions of people being herded on to trains made my blood run cold. ‘Nazi war camps’ awaiting? How many steps away are we? My personal thoughts are:

    – you can’t empty one continent in to another
    – something needs to be done (under the UN banner) to stop the atrocities going off in the relevant countries e.g. Syria – and it needs to happen NOW, and HARD
    – Middle Eastern countries need to step forward and help their neighbours. Some are very rich countries, have plenty of space and need to offer an olive branch to these desperate people
    – we should carry on giving support to refugees in camps on the borders to make them safe havens and register them to see who wants to stay and who want to leave. My understanding from yesterday was that the UK gave entry to every Syrian refugee who applied to come live here – we didn’t refuse any that applied
    – we need to stop the people traffickers that are causing the inhumane events we are now dealing with. The traffickers need hunting down and shown the error of their ways. Messages need to be sent that this is not the way to gain access

    It is our own instinct to survive that is causing fear in this country. We already see old people dying of neglect, children living in what we consider to be poverty etc. We are afraid it will become worse and the news reports and papers are feeding the fear. How long before we become an unstable country trying to cope – we aren’t great at being ‘invaded’, just look at past history. We tend to fight back one way or another.

    Our politicians are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. The United Nations needs to climb down from it’s ivory tower and start showing immediate action not just in humanitarian relief but also in taking the war mongers to task. The whole World, not just Europe, needs to stand up and give support to this most dire of situations.

    • Sorry but there’s a few misconceptions. They’re not trying to empty a continent, not even a country. The numbers are large to cope with arrivals but they are not overwhelming in terms of population.

      Military action is a tricky business and you can’t guarantee the outcome. Also it requires the security council to approve it and that is rarely done.

      Those Middle East countries you speak of are mostly desert remember so their “lots of space” is a bit misleading. I don’t deny they should contribute more but what are we contributing? The UN budget for this crisis is half what Australia spends incarcerating asylum seekers in Nauru. It’s tiny.

      Staying in camps is not any kind of solution but just another brutalisation.

      The people traffickers may profiteer but they are getting people out of dangerous situations, they’re not the cause here, the war is forcing people to flee and we need to be plucking them from the shore before they get in the leaking boats.

      It’s not our instinct to survive because they don’t threaten that, it’s our xenophobia. I come from a place that took many refugees from ww2 and Vietnam and Cambodia and each time the public thought it was the end of their culture, their jobs, their way of life. The country is a much richer place with these refugees now and their children and grandchildren.

      Our politicians are only damned for acting by those who are fearmongering or xenophobic. They need to have some guts to face the ballot box saying “we did what needed to be done for human life, vote me out if you think that was wrong”. Maybe they will lose office. In that case the voting public should hang its head in shame.

  6. I don’t watch the news, but I do read plenty of articles on the internet. Too many forget that these are human beings, not a plague of locusts. They are frightened, they are hurting and they are willing to doe rather than stay in the country of their birth. If it were us, we’d be fleeing in our droves too – and the Czech Republic still sounds good to me when it comes to a Government who realise that they are dealing with real people and real lives, rather than the statistical minority that IDS and his ilk like to pretend aren’t here (people like my son, for instance… or even people like me).

    I refuse to share passive-aggressive Facebook memes (you know the ones: share or you don’t have a heart and blah blah blah) but I encourage my friends to sign every petition I can find. Everybody deserves to feel safe; that is a basic right – and it saddens me that so little s being done by so few.

  7. The photo of Alyun broke my heart, as did the one of the crying Syrian man and his family, the ones of people being forced off trains in Hungary, the one of the man reduced to selling biros in the street to support his two young daughters, and the footage of families drowning off the coast of Australia as their boat hit rocks. Countries who support the war that is driving these people from their homes need to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions. It’s heartening, however, as politicians dither and dance around the issue, to see regular people speaking out and arranging support for refugees across the globe. As I wrote in a recent post, migration is a story as old as human history, and it takes a special kind of desperation to leave your home and everything you own to risk yourself and your children in a rickety boat.

    ‘Understand, you only put your children in boats if the water is safer than the land.’

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  9. I’m glad you posted this.

    In our small village, people have started raising funds and gathering up warm clothing and toys to send to Calais, doing whatever they can think of. It’s not enough, but at least it’s something. These are human beings, desperate to find some safety in the world. Remember reading about the shipful of Jewish refugees who were refused by country after country until finally they were returned to Germany, where they were, eventually, exterminated? Remember being horrified by that and wondering how the world could be so callous? How is this different? (And if it matters to anyone, I say that as a Jew.)

  10. Needless to say , I entirely agry with you ; your post comes as as a healthy breeze in a burning desert…
    Very sadly , this is what surrounds me at the moment ….It seems that lots of people think and behave like ferocious beasts……
    I would underline the words “human beings”……Thanks so much

  11. Not sure if many have seen it but 38 degrees have a petition people can sign to pledge taking refugees into their homes. The hope is that the British government will allow more refugees in if people are opening their homes to them. Anyone who wants to sign up can do so on the 38 degrees website I believe. It was on Facebook earlier today.

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  13. Suzie, this is one of the most thoughtful and compassionate posts you’ve ever written, and that’s saying a lot.
    All countries should open their ports and welcome these innocent, desperate people. Everyone should do what they can to assist, and be grateful that they can offer assistance.
    But the question begs to be answered: When will the terrorists who are causing such horrific violence, grief, and injustice be brought to bear responsibility and restitution for all the destruction they have caused? When will these monsters be ousted and replaced with governance by justice and compassion? This small planet could better focus on other pressing issues, like protection of precious natural resources, if populations were choosing to move for reasons that have nothing to do with fleeing from horror and death. That little child’s photo will become the iconographic image of this century’s reign of brutality. May his picture haunt the nights of those responsible for his tragic death, and may his soul rest in the eternal peace that his young life never knew.

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  15. You can’t help but be affected by these images and stories. In my life I’ve known people who have fled tyranny – Kinder transport, Idi Amin, the boat people from Vietnam. I don’t about the first but I well recall the sirens voices claiming who bad the impact would be and it wasn’t. These poor people once rescued work unbelievably hard to justify the faith shone by the recipient country – us in these cases. And eventually the turmoil, the tyranny in their home states stops and the ‘flood’ eases and stops. It’s always a temporary problem. Always. But while it is happening it is real and needs generosity and sacrifice all round. We need to open our borders to those in those camps. Turkey and Greece and Jordan and Italy and Hungary can’t be expected to cope alone. Of course I want other wealthy nations to do the same, whether in Europe, Asia Africa or wherever but that’s not an excuse for us to play ‘after you Claude’. And while I don’t advocate military action as a solution, and frankly I don’t have a solution, we do need to do all we can to help bring stability to that region. And let’s not forget that British fingerprints are all over the structure of the Middle East and the difficulties we see today from the drawing of arbitrary boundaries that suited the European nations, through the McMahon letters and Balfour declarations during WW1 to the British protectorate under the League of Nations in the 20s 30s and 40s and the incursions in Iraq etc in the 90s and 00s. Some may not agree with the passing of historic responsibility to today’s generation, and of course the main responsibility today is clearly in the evil hands of Isis and the like, but the fact is our approach to the Midle East has always been what’s best for Britian (that is what governments do) and never what is best for the people there; for once we need to change the dynamic and think about them not us.

  16. I thoroughly enjoyed this post. As a retired TV news reporter with 40 plus years logged, I also usually distance myself from writing about political and social issues. Frankly, the social media rantings generally reveal a shocking ignorance of history. This is an excellent primer. Thank you!!

  17. I think one of the problems we face when it comes to changing attitudes is most people seem to lean towards being tribal.
    At one level this comes in supporting football teams, where the opposition (and the ref) are sworn enemies and are treated with scorn, verbal abuse and occasionally physical violence.
    But we also then seem to divide ourselves up into other tribes – religion, nationality, skin colour – all the time building walls between ourselves and others. And in building those walls it becomes easier to think of those on the other side in an abstract way and forget that they are humans like us.
    It’s also easy for us, in our nice, comfy homes, in our nice, safe country to forget that one day we could find ourselves in the same situation as the people so many want to demonise. I know it seems unlikely, but that’s what makes it so hard.
    But just once in a while we should imagine how we might feel if our country was over-run with murderous individuals that are even more tribal than we are. We should imagine what it would be like to have our families torn apart, to live in fear of horrifying violence and death on a daily basis, to feel the terror of knowing that our children’s lives could be in danger, that we should feel so desperate that we would risk poverty and physical danger to help our families to escape and move to a safer environment.
    And then wouldn’t it be nice to think that there would be other people out there in the world who would be willing to offer us help and support at a time when we need it the most. That those people might spare a fraction of the wealth they have among themselves, to help us get back on our feet. And when they did offer that help, how do you think we would repay it?
    We need to remember that, at heart, most people are good people. They only want simple things in life. Food, shelter, warmth and love. It’s when we are deprived of these things that we become dangerous. So it seems to me that the most selfish thing we can do for these people is to help them. Because by giving them security, we’ll get it ourselves, they’re more likely to want to contribute in building up their adopted homes – economically and spiritually, and we’ll feel good about ourselves. Yes, there will be a financial cost, but even the most basic lifestyle in the UK is on a par with living the life of royalty when compared to many refugees.
    Funnily enough, Suzie, I was contemplating posting something myself, but you got this out first and I’ve probably said all I need to for now, but thank you for sharing this and offering a platform for others to share their thoughts.

  18. Beautiful piece! I wrote a similar post. It’s all basic human instinct to seek refuge when we we’re faced with danger. How some can’t seem to show compassion and understanding is beyond me. We all hope for a better tomorrow – future for ourselves and family, they are no different.
    Posts and articles like yours restores my faith in humanity! Thank you for sharing.

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