I sat in the Houses of Parliament in a committee room listening. Here was a young man who had managed to flee Syria and begin life in the UK. His father – dead. His friends family – all dead. He told the group, gathered under the aegis of a Citizens UK campaign with Refugee Action, that there were 10 million refugees and 500,000 dead in the conflict. This is the biggest refugee crisis since the second world war.
Where do we put ourselves?
I have a friend, an amazing educator and activist in Israel, who asked a simple question – wracked with what we might call the guilt of being unable to do anything about genocide in places like Kosovo (in our lifetimes) – he asked what would we be prepared to do to intervene in the chaos and devastation of our time?
We need to reframe our conversations about refuge, sanctuary, asylum. I’m desperate for a discourse that is not reductive of human life to the financial cost to our economy. Put like that, what our councils and our government (successive governments really) bank on is that the issue of refugees is so sufficiently toxic and the financial self-interest so sufficiently strong that any real change in the way that they speak about individuals seeking safety is political suicide.
We must find new ways of discussing the issues. One that does not lose sight of the human plight.
What do we do
We need to demand that our politicians take brave decisions to protect the fragile human lives that are endangered. That means a readjustment – not least to say in spite of pressures on our infrastructures, we will house the vulnerable and protect them. We will give them all we can for a new lease of life.
But more than that I ask – are we personally willing to step up, to offer people a home in our home? Can we find the time, resources and interest to save people who are different to us. Can we personally offer sanctuary in our homes, even whilst we offer a societal sanctuary.
10, 000,000 refugees and 500,000 dead.
What is our responsibility?