Don’t Stand By

27th January 2016. Holocaust Memorial Day. The theme for 2016 is Don’t Stand By. As expained on the HMD website:

The Holocaust and subsequent genocides took place because the local populations allowed insidious persecution to take root. Whilst some actively supported or facilitated state policies of persecution, the vast majority stood by silently – at best, afraid to speak out; at worst, indifferent. Bystanders enabled the Holocaust, Nazi Persecution and subsequent genocides.

On this very day David Cameron in the House of Commons, in response to a question by Jeremy Corbyn, tosses out the dismissive, “a bunch of migrants,” when referring to people in the Calais camps. Other recent news stories include, asylum seekers marked out by having red doors and coloured wrist bands. The Danish parliament approving the seizing of refugees’ assets. Angela Merkel’s position under threat from being too welcoming to refugees. The proposal to close Greek borders, trapping refugees in the country. Masked men in Stockholm attacking refugee children. And 10,000 refugee children missing as Europol warns of gangs targeting minors for sex work and slavery.

It’s difficult to keep up with events, so fast they are escalating. The days of refugees being welcomed across Europe seems long ago – like another time, one that was purer and more innocent. And that was only September. Since then the stream of displaced, traumatised and vulnerable people, including thousands of children has continued, while European countries continue to abdicate responsibility. Refugees are forced to live in a limbo state, where empathy, compassion and love seem not to exist. Even the reminder of the Holocaust, that should act as a true north for Europe until the end of time, isn’t preventing a whole continent from choosing a dark path where death for thousands is the inevitable outcome of inaction.

In my recent esoteric article on the imagination, I talked generally about fear and apathy and how destructive they can be. This continued refugee crises is an example of these forces in play. The British government has stated it will not take in refugee children who are stranded in Calais, orphaned and alone. This is shameful. We should be taking them all; everyone last one of them. There is no other moral course to take. Without assistance, these children will die or be taken by traffickers and become a commodity – bought, sold and abused. And as a country that will be on us.

I’ve heard the argument made, often put in empathic terms, that Britain would help if it could. With no money, no space and no system, that’s unfortunately not possible. That we can’t even look after children here, or get British people off the streets. That the NHS is at breaking point. That our system simply can’t take any more. I agree these concerns are very real, and they need to be addressed, yet it is absurd that in one of the riches countries in the world we lack the resources to help not only these children but other refugees. Between 1938 and 1939, Britain took in thousands of refugee Jewish children through what was known as the kindertransport. The government allowed the children to enter the UK on temporary travel visas, with citizens and organisations funding the rescue operation. The children were dispersed throughout the country, living in different arrangements from foster families to group homes. The majority would go on to stay in Britain, with others joining family members in other countries when safe.

Additionally, at the start of World War II, with the looming threat of German bombing, millions of children were evacuated from towns and cities in Britain to rural areas. There they would stay with host families, sometimes for years. It might not have always been a pleasant experience for some of the children and families involved, but it did keep the children away from the falling German bombs. This was an enormous voluntary undertaking that spared children from the immediate horrors of war.

If the people of Britain did it then, we can do it now. If the resources aren’t there to handle the incoming children, temporarily reassign people. Ask for volunteers on a mass scale. People will help. Get the faiths involved. They already have a structure in place for volunteers. They have buildings. They have communities and families. Let’s mobilise people and organisations to deal with this problem, because it’s not going to go away, and the longer we wait, the more refugees will die. At the very least the government should leave the door open for individuals, families and organisations to save these children. I recognise this is not my field and that I don’t have the answers, I just think surely there’s more we can do.

If you want to reject refugees due concerns about ISIS, the spread of Islam, and threats to your way of life, you should know that ISIS wants nothing more than the west to reject these people. They want the west to show itself as exactly the heartless, narcissistic and indulgent society they say it is. And for us to reject these people who are pleading for our help – that is to turned them against us. That is what makes them our enemies. Embracing them, taking them in – that is how one builds a safer society, where people look out for one another. That is community. That is family. That is a country of which to be proud.

Even with all the fear mongering in Britain, there is this idea that our society will continue tomorrow much like today. Yes, there might be a decline, and that the old days were better, but our way of life will endure. The reality is no society is more than one disaster away from cataclysmic change. In our lives and the lives of our children, we might be forced into a position of needing to get into a boat and cross dangerous waters in order to survive. We might need to travel vast distances in search of help when there is nothing left of our country – nothing left of the home we once knew. We might need to choose between death at home or possible safety at the end of a treacherous journey. And if we’re able to endure and reach the gates of safe haven, exhausted and traumatised, can we have any objection when we’re not let inside? Can we truly say we deserve entry? I want that answer to be yes. Right now it certainly isn’t.

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