I’m not predisposed to emotional outbursts, a result of an upbringing under the dour grey skies of Northern England. So I thought twice about writing this blog. Not because I’m afraid of showing emotion, or of expressing my opinion; it’s more that, in the face of overwhelming suffering, whatever I write might sound trite or, worse, self righteous.
“Sitting here in my safe European home”, as The Clash song goes, I feel a profound shame at our collective failure to respond to the humanitarian crisis unfolding between Europe and Syria, Iraq, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Libya, Nigeria…on and on the list goes. My writing about it isn’t going to help. Yet warm, dry, safe in my Dutch home, I feel compelled to write.
It’s a different story for the thousands of refugees I witnessed recently in Belgrade. People torn from their homes, separated from their families, throwing themselves into a terrifying world to escape an even more terrifying fate. To many, these people are migrants, a term now loaded with loathing. A term that seems interchangeable with ‘non-person’ or ‘sub-human’ in the minds of some.
I find that attitude repugnant. I’ve never seen more humanity, however desperate, however impoverished by circumstance. The people – mainly from Syria and Iraq – sleeping rough or in tents in the parks of Belgrade, contrast sharply with the lack of humanity shown to them by Europe’s political class.
I found myself staying in a hotel overlooking a refugee transit camp in central Belgrade – irony doesn’t get much more ironic than that. It was raining hard when I first arrived and conditions in the park deteriorated quickly amongst the temporary shelters and inadequate tents. There were no international agencies, no EU, just local (inadequate) services, and the kindness of ordinary Serbs.
After walking through the camp and meeting a few people – a remarkable number of whom speak English – my conclusion is that it is, and our politicians are, profoundly immoral to do next to nothing to help each and every refugee fleeing war and terror.
As an individual, it’s overwhelming to witness so many men, women and children, young and old, trying to find safety. It made me feel helpless. Surely though, it’s not beyond the ability of the wealthiest continent on the planet to do better than this?
I’ll leave off the moralising, the political commentary, after all there are acres of newsprint and hours of TV broadcasts to fill that gap. I won’t even point the finger of blame at those who are ultimately responsible for this crisis…you know who you are.
I’ll say only this. It’s easy to dehumanise the vulnerable, the weak, those in desperate need; and, because it’s easy, we must all keep reminding ourselves and our politicians that the people in the parks of Belgrade, lost at sea in the Mediterranean, and scrambling to cross a border in the hope of living a life of dignity, are just that, people. If we value our own dignity, we must value theirs also.