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On the turning away…

04 Sep

I doubt this is the first post you’ve read today on this subject and I’m sure it won’t be the last, so maybe that means I shouldn’t even bother.

You might even see what it’s about and scroll on past. After all, I’m sure you all have busy lives and you only have so much time to spend on the internet.

“Compassion fatigue”, I think that’s the phrase somebody once coined to describe the phenomenon.
In a world so filled with tragedy and injustice, we, as a society, merely the more fortunate spectators of other people’s distress, become hardened and inured to their suffering, somehow managing to push them to the back of our minds, just another unpleasant statistic.

But the situation in which Europe finds itself today is not something we can turn our faces away from, the sheer weight of human destitution and degradation that plays out on our television screens daily cannot be ignored or shrugged off as “not our problem”, not when we are all supposed to be part of the same global community.

The refugee crisis that now faces our world is second only to the evacuation of civilians during the holocaust of the second world war, when millions of people were tortured, murdered and persecuted under the Nazi and Soviet regimes.
During that time, public opinion was so strong that a huge mobilisation of aid began, culminating in the formation of the Kindertransport, a series of humanitarian rescue missions which brought up to 10,000 children across war-torn Europe to the safety of the UK.
These innocent victims, many of them Jews who had escaped extermination by Hitler’s death squads, had already suffered terribly at the hands of the advancing forces which had invaded their homelands and the majority of them would never see their families again, their parents murdered in places with names that will forever live in international infamy;  Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor, and Treblinka.

The children, most of whom arrived by train at London’s Liverpool Street station, were welcomed by a charitable nation, now itself at war with Germany, were clothed, fed, educated and cared for, staying with volunteer foster families or at hostels which were set up in hotels, farms and schools around Britain.
Not only were these refugees given respite from the suffering they had endured in their native countries, but after the war they were allowed to remain here permanently and were given British citizenship, or relocated to Canada, Israel, America and Australia where they were finally able to make new lives for themselves, albeit as orphans from the most destructive conflict in human history.

Fast forward seventy years and look at how far we’ve come since those days:
We no longer live in the blitz-ravaged and impoverished post-war nation we inhabited back then; despite the minor inconvenience of enforced “austerity” brought about by the worldwide financial meltdown of a few years ago, we are still a prosperous country which benefits from all the material trappings of western civilisation; our lives, for the most part, are comparatively easy and trouble-free, our needs catered for by a welfare state that so many brave men and women died to protect from those who would enslave us.
And yet the spirit of global charity and accepted duty of care that we once showed to others less fortunate than ourselves seems to have declined exponentially in relation to our increase in wealth and prosperity.

At least that would appear to be the case if some of the right-wing press and hate-filled posts on social media are to be believed.

The number of vitriolic newspaper headlines, status updates and rabble-rousing political speeches denouncing displaced migrants and refugees as “lazy spongers”, “scroungers”, “benefit cheats” and, paradoxically, undeserving recipients of “British jobs” grows every day, despite the compelling evidence that a great many of those requesting asylum are fleeing persecution, incarceration, torture or even death in their own countries.

The weasel words of politicians and journalists, who claim the country is “full” and therefore unable to accept a few thousand extra members into our already rich, multi-cultural society, most of whom are simply looking for a safe place to work hard and raise families, make me almost ashamed to be British sometimes.

Many of those children who were rescued by the Kindertransport in Europe’s darkest days not only went on to become valuable and hard working members of society, some actually volunteered for the armed forces and died fighting for the country that had taken them in during their hour of need.
Any of those that survived, looking at their adopted country now, must despair at the neglect and misanthropy shown by some that share the land they swore to defend.

It seems that only in the last few days has the enormity of the crisis sunk in to the national consciousness, and then only at the price of adding one more innocent life to the toll of those needlessly sacrificed, this time on a beach usually thronged by holidaying tourists.
Aylan Kurdi, a three year old boy who travelled to Turkey with his family to escape ISIS and the brutal situation in Syria, drowned in his father’s arms, along with his five year old brother and their mother, when their small boat capsized on the final leg of a journey that should have saved them from a life most of us cannot imagine.

Only the heartbreaking photo of an aid worker carrying Aylan’s lifeless body away from the spot where he was found, washed up on the shore of a foreign land he knew nothing about, now seems to have galvanised our unforgivably slow-moving government (finally bowing to an increasing public outcry) into taking action.

Too little, too late.

It has once more fallen to private citizens and charity organisations to take on the responsibilities that we would usually expect to be shouldered by the state; many UK families and local authorities unilaterally offering places for refugees to stay and settling up collections of basic essentials, to be distributed amongst those still trapped in the transit camps, both in the middle east and Europe.

{The problem isn’t only in Europe, see a report on another disturbing story HERE}

The next step should be doing something about the estimated 11 MILLION empty properties, enough to put a huge dent in not only the current refugee crisis but also the domestic homelessness problem that has plagued many countries on the continent for years.

In the seventy years since the end of a war that decimated whole countries in Europe, I don’t believe that the charitable spirit of the British people which demanded the humanitarian rescue of holocaust victims has deteriorated to the point of not caring about displaced and persecuted refugees, but the continuous drip-drip-drip of negativity in the press and the rise of bigoted hate groups, especially on social media, has had the knock-on effect of making us question the legitimacy of genuine claims for asylum, no matter how horrific evidence to the contrary may be.

It’s a sad day indeed when it takes the hopeless grief of a broken father, burying his entire family in the full glare of the news media, to make us remember that we need to remain human and compassionate, despite the inescapable fact that, if not for an accident of birth, that could have been you or I, paying the ultimate price for the sake of freedom.

I will leave the last word to Pink Floyd and the song from which I borrowed the title of this post: “On The Turning Away”.

[Should you wish to assist in the aid effort, please consider donating to The Red Cross or to the independent charity Calaid, set up to help refugees still caught up in the transit camps in Calais.]

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4 responses to “On the turning away…

  1. Darmon

    September 15, 2015 at 12:26

    Good post Dale. Well-written, rousing stuff.

    We’ve conversed briefly on this topic already, and I know we disagree on some points perhaps. The details. But at its core, I worry that the phenomenon we’re now seeing – this ‘compassion fatigue’ – reflects a serious problem in society. I believe people today, in our part of the world, at least, are more selfish than ever before. Perhaps it’s capitalism to blame. Or the media. Or those damn selfie-sticks. I don’t know… but sometimes it takes a humanitarian disaster to bring out people’s true colours.

    It’ll be a bumpy road ahead, for sure. I just hope people manage to remember that humanity is more important than the cushy little nests that so many of us have built for ourselves.

     
    • dalecooper57

      September 15, 2015 at 12:38

      Thank you Darmon. I do take your previous points on board, I know it’s no use being naïve about these things and hope that everyone will just get along, or that there is a quick fix to any of it, but the viciousness and obvious hate with which some of social media’s (mostly anonymous) keyboard warriors rant and pontificate on the subject makes me despair sometimes. And it’s not just uninformed bigots either; a lot of politicians in the UK should be ashamed (but never will be) with the way they casually consign the obviously desperate victims of global conflict to the category of “evil foreigners”, without even considering the possibility that many of these disenfranchised and terrified families no longer have anywhere to call home.

       
  2. Janice Wald

    October 2, 2015 at 04:44

    Hi Dale,
    You wouldn’t believe how timely this incredible post is.
    I was on a cruise ship over the summer bound for Istanbul, Turkey. Refugees fleeing from Syria stole a boat. They planned to sneak into another country illegally. They lost control of their boat. The wind blew it across the sea. The coast guard insisted our cruise ship pick them up which we did.
    Passengers on our ship were insensitive and insisted they be gone. This was not our problem they complained; they wanted to continue to Istanbul. The refugees did not want to leave and struggled to stay. There were 117 men, women, and children.
    They were sent to a judge in Greece. My husband and I predicted they’d be sent back to Syria and executed.
    Thank you for trying to increase people’s sensitivity to this situation.
    I’m Janice from Mostly Blogging. Thank you for visiting my site and liking my guest author’s SEO post.
    Did you find me on Chris, the Story Ape’s blog? I know John W. Howell from Chris’s site.
    Janice

     

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