Jayne Dowle: Compassion for refugees means thinking long-term
JUST what is a reasonable person to think about the plight of the hundreds of thousands of refugees attempting to flee their homelands and enter Europe? My first instinct is sympathy. My second is helplessness – what can any of us do to call a halt to this mass migration of humankind?
My thoughts have been brought into sharp focus by the terrible plight facing those fleeing from war-torn Syria. I was moved to tears by the awful image of that poor drowned child, Aylan Kurdi. I have two children of my own, and can’t imagine what it must feel like to lose a son in such circumstances, indeed in any circumstances.
Who would have thought though that one image of a dead boy washed up like flotsam could act as such as a catalyst? Since we were forced to share in such visceral detail the desperate horror of attempting to cross a dangerous sea on an overcrowded boat, there has been a volte face in public opinion.
Can it really be only a few short months ago that half the people I know seemed to be on the verge of voting Ukip? Now my email inbox and social media feeds are full of messages from well-meaning friends and acquaintances organising collections of clothes and supplies to help those who have fled war and oppression only with what they stood up in.
I’ve even got one friend in London taking a van to Calais, and she’s collecting bicycles. This is the preferred way for individuals get around the refugee camps, such is the scale and size of these places.
I admire my friends for their altruism. From a concerned, compassionate and caring point of view, I support what they are doing. Yet, so far, I simply cannot find it in myself to do as they do.
That said, I’m no Katie Hopkins. I couldn’t say those cruel and inhumane things the controversial “social commentator” has said about other human beings. And I don’t want anyone to strap me to a missile and send me to bomb Syria.
However, this doesn’t mean that I have to agree wholeheartedly with the Prime Minister’s promise to resettle thousands of Syrian refugees in Britain. This is what I mean about the difficulty of raising a voice of reason in the midst of the clamour and din. Object and you appear cruel, heartless and unfeeling.
Yet, I’d argue that it is just as cruel, heartless and unfeeling to invite 20,000 Syrian refugees to come and live in Britain without any clear plan about how this is going to be financed in the long-term or put into place in the short.
According to news reports, at least 30 local authorities have said that they will accept Syrian families into their towns and cities.
I’ve seen the maths which proves that in a country of more than 50 million people another 20,000 souls wouldn’t really make that much of an impact. I’ve also read the “assurances” from the Chancellor, George Osborne, that the public money to pay for this programme to bring these people here will come from the foreign aid budget.
And I’ve taken in the details that when these refugees arrive they will be given 12 months of support, funded by the Home Office and the EU.
This includes registering with a GP, the job centre, welfare services, and help with finding a place in local schools and colleges for children and young people. There are similar arrangements in place for refugees of all nations who come to Britain. Different rules apply for asylum seekers. And economic migrants, the people who come to Britain to seek work. Let’s not get it confused, because the ignorant find it remarkably easy to do so.
However, there is nothing clearer than what I can see with my own eyes. Every time I drive into town, I see the net result of what is happening on the ground.
I see the poverty that people who have come here from foreign countries are living in. I see the children in their ragged and filthy clothes wandering the streets at all hours. I look aghast at what has happened to once-respectable areas of terraced housing.
The streets of my childhood have been taken over by greedy absentee buy-to-let landlords who simply take the money for their properties and literally run. I can’t help but wonder in my heart of hearts if it would be right for animals to live like this, never mind human beings.
In five years’ time, what will these streets look like? How will those raggedy children be growing up? Will they find a place in schools which are already bursting at the seams?
Will they be able to seek medical treatment if they need it, when it already takes a fortnight to secure an appointment with a GP?
Will there be jobs for them, homes to bring up their own children in?
This could turn into a cruelty far worse than the horror which they fled from in the first place. Before we get carried away with our communal compassion, I’d like us all to face some home truths.