It’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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