“I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

Edward Everett Hale

Friday, 4 September 2015

Compassion, Not Judgement; Compassion, Not Fear

For the last few weeks, our television screens, newspapers, and Facebook feeds have been full of horrifying images of Syrian refugees, who have fled from the civil war which has been raging in their country for the last four years. Then one image, of a small three-year-old boy, lying dead, face down at the edge of the water on a Turkish beach, seems to have touched the hearts and minds of British people. His name was Aylan Kurdi, and he and his five-year-old brother and his mother all lost their lives in their family's bid for asylum.

photo by Nilufer Demir / Reuters
As Somali poet Warsan Shire points out: "You have to understand, that no-one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land. No-one burns their palms under trains, beneath carriages; no-one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck feeding on newspaper, unless the miles travelled mean something more than journey ... No-one leaves home unless [they know that] anywhere is safer than here."

These people are not economic migrants; they are refugees seeking asylum from the horrors they have experienced. All they want is a place of safety, where their houses will not be bombed, their young men kidnapped to fight for the regime, or members of their families killed. The charity Mercy Corps explains: "According to the UN, more than half of all Syrian refugees are under the age of 18. The youngest are confused and scared by their experiences, lacking the sense of safety and home they need. The older children are forced to grow up too fast, finding work and taking care of their family in desperate circumstances."

Not economic migrants, refugees.

The article on the Mercy Corps website makes for sobering reading. Four million Syrian refugees are currently in five host countries, including over 1.5 million in Turkey, over 1,150,000 in Lebanon, where one in five people are now Syrian refugees, nearly 625,000 in Jordan, where the figure is 1 in 13, and Iraq, and Egypt, who have also given hundreds of thousands of refugees shelter, at least at a very basic level. But their living conditions are far from adequate - people are living with no heat or running water, no proper sanitation, and are facing a very bleak future. At this rate, the United Nations predicts that there could be 4.27 million Syrian refugees by the end of 2015 - the worst exodus since the Rwandan genocide 20 years ago.

So the numbers seeking to come to Europe are a tiny fraction of those seeking safety. And I have just heard that Germany has agreed to take 800,000 of those. Many humanitarian organisations, including Mercy Corps, the Red Cross, Medecin Sans Frontieres, are partnering with the United Nations, using both private contributions and funding from the international community to actively address the needs of Syrians caught up in this terrible disaster. But so much more needs to be done.

Each one of these refugees is a person, a human being, not just a number, not just a nuisance. The United Nations estimates that more than half of the country's pre-war population of 23 million is in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, whether they are still in Syria, or have escaped across the borders.

So we need to show compassion, not judgement; compassion, not fear. Compassion is not about being safe; it is about putting ourselves at risk, about letting down the guards around ourselves. It is we who have to be the change we want to see in the world. We who have to take responsibility for our own actions - to become activists, where we are. Because every little makes a difference.

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