Refugee crisis: A plea for empathy and compassion


Imagine just for a moment that your world is crashing down around you. Everything you once looked to for safety is gone. You’re home, job, parents, children ripped from you in an instant. The very fabric of the society you have spent your whole life in has now been taken away. You are terrified, vulnerable and desperate. Maybe there’s been a war or an invasion by some outside force. Perhaps an environmental catastrophe has robbed you of your peace and security. Whatever it is just think about that for a moment or two. Now ask yourself what would I do? Where would I turn for help?

It’s a truly horrible thought isn’t it? In all likelihood you’re struggling to comprehend the enormity of such a situation. You may be unable to contemplate how you would react. After all you have never had to face such a hopeless set of circumstances.

Maybe some of you would stay and fight against impossible odds to restore your life to some semblance of normality. Or, more likely you would try with every fibre of your being to move yourself and any surviving family members to a safer place. Anywhere would do, so long as you could feed your children and give them shelter. You would risk anything to get your loved-ones to a safe haven; wouldn’t you? Perhaps once you got there you could earn a little money and send it back to those who didn’t get out.

You would hope, even believe that if against all odds you made it to safety, that others would recognise your plight and offer assistance. After all none of this is your fault, why wouldn’t they help you? All sounds like a fairly reasonable human response doesn’t it? Now imagine that the opposite happened. Instead of shelter and basic human decency you were met with razor wire and tear gas. Instead of holding out a hand the authorities greeted you with truncheons and water cannon.

Even worse what if politicians and governments attempted to demonize you, referring to you and your kin as a swarm? You’re no longer a mother, father, son or daughter – you are a problem or a threat. I suspect you’d be incredulous, even furious. How could they push you back into the sea? How could they so callously ignore your cries for help. How could they sit and watch TV as you and your children drown?

Of course this is all happening to millions of human beings right now and we are seeing exactly the responses described. There are those who have tried to counter the wave of anti-immigrant propaganda by pointing out that Britain receives very few asylum applications relative to its European partners. Others have hi-lighted the positive contribution to society made by migrants throughout history, both economically and culturally. Cities like Liverpool have been built and populated by such people.

Scratch beneath the skin of any Britain today and you will find the blood of immigrants coursing through their veins. But even this misses the point. These arguments, while necessary and just don’t deal with the central issue; which is that we are talking about human beings here, not numbers. These people are no different to you or I and they are only trying to do what any of us would do in similar circumstances. To suggest that they are feral or in some way inferior and not worthy of the same basic rights as us, as some commentators have, is criminal and inhumane in my view.

I am reminded of a quote by Ghandi. On a visit to the west he was asked what he thought of western civilisation. He replied “I think it would be a good idea.” We like to call ourselves civilised. It allows us to feel comfortable and for some, superior. However, I believe the true mark of a civilised society is how it responds to those in the most desperate of need. In fact I would argue it is the only measure. Sadly western ‘civilisation’ is currently falling way short of this benchmark.

It is time Europe joined forces to offer these people safe passage and refuge. We cannot tolerate people who have already suffered the most unimaginable degradation to be beaten, abused and in some cases left to die. We have a duty as human beings to first walk in their shoes before passing judgement. To hold out our hands in solidarity and support instead of greeting them with hate and bigotry. Only when we respond in this way, with empathy and compassion, can we call ourselves a civilisation.