I admire all those kind people who are offering spare rooms or rental cottages to the refugees. We have all seen the pictures and I doubt anyone is unmoved. How can we ignore those families desperate enough to risk their lives to try and find somewhere safe to live? To see children who have drowned, children who look like my own boys did at that age, is too horrible for words. My heart weeps for them. But, I have a problem.
Whilst all the above is true, completely true, why do we find it so easy to ignore other people in dire need? Why have these immigrants touched us when so many others have not? Why am I moved almost to tears at a photograph of a small boy lying dead in the sea, when I have watched film after film of children in Africa who are wasting away for want of food and clean water? What is the difference?
These are not rhetorical questions, I really would like to know the answer. I am mystified by my reaction and yet I see it multiplied time and again in the media. Is it because these people have actually arrived at our door, are a step away from being in the UK? Is it because the children resemble so closely my own, so I can relate to them more easily than to those who look different? I do not know.
An interesting element in all this is that we were told about these very same refugees months and months ago, when the war first broke out in Syria. I was invited by charities such as Tearfund and Save the Children to send money to help provide food and shelter for these same children. And I did, I dutifully sent off something to help. But I didn’t cry. I didn’t wonder if I could have a couple living in my spare room. What has changed?
Do you think it is the media attention? Am I just being manipulated into feeling things that otherwise would pass me by? I do not think so. I think it is good that their plight has been brought to our attention. It is easy to live in our cocoons of comfort and fail to notice those who need our help.
However, I do think that we need to use our brains here, to react emotionally but also to behave sensibly. Is it better to home refugees in the UK or to provide safe places in their own land? I do not know. I do know that there are several charities who have been working since the crisis began to try and do just that. It is easy to ignore them and to think that we know best, we know what to do.
I don’t have any answers here but I do think we all need to think about these questions. What actually makes a Syrian child touch us when an African one does not? Do we somehow value one over the other? I do hope not.