We Were All Refugees Once

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I was on my way to pick my daughter up from school when I walked passed two elderly ladies that were talking. “I heard that they want to house refugees here in town” one of them said to the other, obviously talking about refugees from Syria, which has been all over the news for weeks. “Good” was the only thing the second lady answered, and by the time either one of them spoke again I was too far away to hear anything. That little snippet of conversation made me think though; wouldn’t it be nice if that was how everyone reacted to their village, town or city housing refugees?

There’s no denying that the world is overpopulated, there’s no denying that Britain, as well as every other part of Europe has its own issues, amongst others there are problems like homelessness, unemployment and child poverty, even to certain degree immigration. However, wouldn’t it be nice if those issues wouldn’t be used as an excuse not to facilitate people in desperate need? Because those Syrian refugees pictured in the newspapers, on television and in pictures circulated on social media are in exactly that; desperate need. There is a difference between what a lot of people have viewed as excessive migration over several decades, and helping people that have no one else to help them. There is a difference between economically minded immigrants and refugees that have left their homes because they had no other choice, because whatever you may read, whatever some politicians may tell you and whatever you may tell yourself to feel better about not wanting to help someone that isn’t vital to your own wellbeing, these people had no other choice. No one leaves their homes, the place where they have watched their children grow, where they feel they belong and where they at some point felt safe because they want to. These are people that wanted anything but to leave, people who have to risk their own lives as well as those of their children on a dangerous road, because they know they cannot remain where they are, because they know that staying will mean certain death for some of them.

Who are we to judge them? Who are we to say that we would have done “better” by our families, that we would have protected our children more, what gives our governments the right to treat these people, these human beings as if they are worth less than the rest of us, like they don’t deserve our help because they didn’t just stay in a hell that most of us couldn’t imagine and accepted the cards that were dealt to them? Our governments and the people who voted for them aren’t innocent or completely free of responsibility in regards to what is happening in Syria or the rest of the Middle East. Decades of choosing which injustices we ignore and which ones we don’t, supporting evil men one week, turning our back on them the next, picking and choosing which wars to fight, and making up the reasons as to why we fight them all helped lead to this point. That however is insignificant, as even if we were completely faultless, even if we had no blame in the events whatsoever, we would still be responsible, because those people who are scared, who are running from their homes, who are dying, they’re human beings, and whenever we see human beings in that much agony, it is our responsibility to try and do something about it. In the short term this means accepting the refugees that we can help, allow them into our society, and show them that they can be safe again.

The word refugee originated in the late 17th century from the French word réfugie, meaning to have ‘gone in search of refuge’, if taken literally would mean everyone knows someone/knows of someone who has been a refugee. Every day we read about people who have had to leave their homes because of abuse, who have to run away in fear of their lives, whose lives haven’t turned out the way they expected and they have been left in an impossible situation. If that was your neighbour, your sister, your brother or your child, you wouldn’t just turn your back on them and refuse to help them. The United States of America is a great example of an entire country that was flooded by refugees as Europeans desperately wanted to escape amongst other things poverty and prosecution, in desperate need of a chance to improve their lives by travelling across the Atlantic. In fact when looking back at anyone’s ancestry, there’s the strong possibility that someone in your family at one point had to seek refuge somewhere else, for whatever reason. In a sense, we were all refugees once.

Those who are trying to escape Syria aren’t doing so because they want to leave their homes, and I imagine most of them would love to be able to be able to return to their homes one day in the future. However until a time when that is possible, it is not only our responsibility to help those who seek refuge in whichever way we can, but it is our duty. And rather than continue using excuses and negativity as to why we shouldn’t help, if we are told that our country is going to do their part for the refugees we should all utter that one exclamation that I overheard an elderly lady use; “Good!” There’s a Nordic proverb that goes “Der det er hjarterom, er det husrom” and it translates along the lines of ‘Where there’s room in your heart, there’s room in your home’, and just maybe clearing some room in our hearts is exactly where we need to start.

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