Over the last few years, my country has seen huge political polarisation. Terms like “loony lefties” or “right-wing extremists” are being thrown at every leader, and applied to everything from healthcare and employment to families and schools. Now, of course, there are also attitudes underpinning what is known as the “migration crisis”.
To put the situation in context, the UK is the only country to have opted out of the EU’s relocation scheme, but Prime Minister David Cameron has said the country will take 20,000 refugees over 5 years – a controversial number. The country has also donated £1billion in financial aid.
While many I have spoken to think 20,000 is a small number, some think the Prime Minister is generous in housing 20,000 since our country is a small island where resources, space and finances are stretched. It’s true that we are seeing less financial support for poor people and increases in homelessness.Having refugees coming in puts even more pressure on the Brits.
But I have heard so many people say, “We have to look after our own first”, overlooking the irony that they have equally ignored our homelessness situation. I do believe that we need to help our own people, but I don’t think they have more right to a home than refugees. If we sort our own situation we will be better equipped to help others. There are just not enough people trying to solve either problem.
People hold an underlying attitude that they can’t afford to give. With talk of economic recession still flying around, and despite the fact they have so much, people convince themselves that they are justified in not helping. Having met refugees and heard some stories, I think we must support them.
This situation has been growing for a long time, but like many Brits, until recently I didn’t feel a personal connection or responsibility. Now that a crisis has occurred, people (including the government) still don’t want to take action. I realise that we need to help. If we don’t, then no one will.
I spent some time with such refugees last month, as part of a sanitation operation in a refugee camp in France. As strange as it sounds, it struck me that these were ordinary people. They had experienced good and bad times, like me, and this was just a particularly bad time. They were so grateful for any help, because it’s rare. In this particular camp, there was no public water system, layers of razor wire fenced them in, and the camp’s borders were guarded by armed police. All in an attempt to make them leave – they are not welcome there. They are treated like criminals or animals, not people in need.
However, I was also amazed at how they are making the best of their situation – running shops, hospitals, restaurants, and helping with the clean-up.
I think continuous news stories have made people here tune out, and stop seeing each one as a human or family, because honestly we can’t relate to this crisis. Most people here have never had to flee from terrorism or government corruption, nor had their lives in danger. The only way to combat this is to realise that our human qualities aren’t unique to the Western world, and don’t suddenly disappear with a crisis.
We share our emotions, our reasoning, and most of all our value with everyone, regardless of where they are from or what they have experienced. I would challenge anyone here to go and talk to refugees, rather than condemn them from the safety of a comfortable English home. Maybe you would be surprised at how similar they are.
A lot of scare mongering is happening too – suggestions that these people aren’t fleeing war but coming to make money; or that we might let in terrorists by mistake. In my opinion, these are at best total ignorance, and at worst excuses for a lack of compassion and perpetuation of racist stereotypes.
Unfortunately, operations and aid donations like those in France are only a temporary solution as the numbers coming are increasing, but few refugees are able to find a permanent home. I think we should be working as a country to create a sustainable future for everyone.
This means helping the poor in our own country, sharing our wealth with others who have equal or greater need of it, and making countries like Syria a safe place for people to return to. It’s just a shame that no one is willing to take the first step in giving refugees shelter and security, which is why attitudes need to change.