Brett Hetherington

Banner photos: Cornelia Kraft

Refugees in a strange land

[A version of this article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, October 2015.]

 

 

Now even the Daily Mail's editors have finally accepted that British Prime Minister David Cameron's "swarms" of refugees need to be helped.

 

The next question has become one of where Europe's newest asylum seekers and victims of war will be settled.

 

Conservative governments (including Spain's) have agreed to take a 'fair share' of refugees but this language is vague - exactly as they want it to be.

 

In fact, Spain is taking less than half the EU request. The truth is that ninety five percent of Syrian refugees are in just five main host countries: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, which Amnesty International says are "struggling to cope."

 

Even just this kind of discussion about numbers of people to a certain extent makes the crisis more remote from reality. Public debate on this issue has been marked by language that is not only intentionally vague.

 

Much of it uses terms that suck out the humanity of the desperate lives of many people who are living through hours and days that most of us can barely imagine.

 

Cold, clinical terms like 'dislocation' and 'displacement' are used along with the insulting tag of 'boat people' - popular in Australia for a long time.

 

A country like Australia was built from migrants and plenty of them were refugees. Israel was also built by migrants and Britain is still being built by people from across the globe. European countries (and just as importantly Asian countries) will have to embrace migrants as an important part of their future.

 

Apart from the clear humanitarian reasons, it is actually in the interests of ageing populaces in these parts of the world to take in and welcome the kind of younger, fit men, women and children who have been able to survive long sea journeys, for example.

 

More importantly, I care about the lives that wait for Europe’s latest arrivals. It is heartening to see Germans welcoming some of them at train stations. That is a much better alternative than attacking refugees in the camps where they were put, as German neo-Nazi’s recently did.

 

But while we are considering what is good for different societies across Europe it is vital to think about the refugees themselves.

 

Many will not be able to speak the language of their new locations. Many will feel alienated by the surroundings, wishing they could still be at home, despite the individual and collective tragedies unfolding there. It’s probable that the violence in their homelands has meant they have lost loved ones: survivor guilt can be a result.

 

But to feel that you are accepted as an equal - even in a land where you may not really want to live - that may be a source of solace and consolation.

 

After your world has been turned upside down it is the least that anyone deserves.