Don’t Look Away

We are so lucky, living in Australia. Most of us, anyway.

My heart is bleeding and I feel so sad. Thousands of refugees are making their way by whatever means possible to Europe and other places. They are desperate. Desperate people who feel that the risks of the water are safer than those on the land they left. A large number of those refugees are Syrians, fleeing the crisis. According to a spokesperson from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) last night (interview link here), part of the reason we’re “suddenly” seeing such an influx is that the countries closest to warzones like Syria and Iraq have, over the past few years, themselves become overwhelmed by the sheer number of people fleeing across the borders.

If you like numbers, here’s some from The Age:

  • In the first six months of this year, 137,000 refugees and migrants crossed the central Mediterranean Sea route from Libya to Italy, travelling in appalling conditions in unseaworthy wooden boats and rubber dinghies. That number has now topped 150,000.
  • Syrians are the largest single group of refugees trying to get to Europe. More than 4 million Syrians have been forced to flee a war that is now in its fifth year. Of those refugees, at least 1.6 million are children.
  • Eritreans have accounted for 12 per cent of maritime arrivals, while Afghans have made up 11 per cent. Citizens of Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan and Iraq also made up a significant number of those trying to find a safe place to call home.

Tied to this (according to the UNHCR spokesperson mentioned earlier, Ariane Rummery) is the fact is that many of these Syrian refugees, for example, thought at first that the conflict wouldn’t last long. But’s been going on for five years now, with still no apparent end in sight really. All the refugees want to do is go home – but they can’t. It’s too dangerous. So they gather their families and scrape together money, then leave with only as much as they can carry in their pockets or on their backs. They begin the dangerous journey not knowing if they’ll make it but knowing that it’s better to take the risk than to remain behind.

It’s truly a situation of being caught between a rock and a hard place.

So what do we in our comfortable ivory towers do? Do our governments – across the world – recognise this rock/hard place dilemma?
On the most part, they don’t. Or so it seems. (Bravo Germany, for being better than most about this!)

This crisis shows that the refugee situation needs a global response. A truly global one, not just one that pretends to be. (I refuse to call it a ‘problem’ or ‘issue’ – people are not the problem, but the situation is.) I do mean global, not just regional. The situation belongs to everyone, not just those closest. Its solution does too.
That is the thing that people do not seem to get.

Although, having said that, quite a few “ordinary” people do seem to “get it”. I’ve seen quite a few posts over the past few days showing this. The harrowing pictures – especially of that little boy called Aylan Kurdi – have swept across our screens leaving us shocked, sad and angry. We cannot look away from these images, even if – when – they are so distressing.

We must convert this anger to action. As UNICEF have said: “…The plight of these children is neither by their choice nor within their control. They need protection. They have a right to protection. 

Migrant and refugee kids must be given health care, food, shelter and support from trained child welfare experts. Search and rescue operations need to continue on both sea and land, and there must be adequate protections against abuse and exploitation. The best interests of these children have to come first in all decisions that affect them.

As the debates on policies proceed, we should never lose sight of the deeply human nature of this crisis. And we should never forget what lies behind so many of the stories of families seeking sanctuary in Europe: terrible conflicts such as that in Syria, which already has forced some 2 million children to flee their country. Only an end to these conflicts can bring an end to the misery of so many.

In Australia (Victoria), The Age has published a list of ways to help:
It includes links to groups seeking donations like International Red Cross, Red Cross Australia, UNHCR, International Rescue Committee, Save the Children, Oxfam and Médecins Sans Frontières.
It also gives links of grassroots groups (local to Australia & Victoria/ Melbourne particularly) if you want to donate time as well as money: Save the Children’s early learning support programs, Amnesty International’s local action groups and Welcome Dinners, the West Welcome Wagon, Montmorency Asylum Seeker Support Group (linked with the ASRC, below) and the Brigidene Asylum Seeker Support Program.
If you want to give items, then look up the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.
If you’re affected by today’s train strike in Melbourne? Instead of grizzling, you can even donate your myki fare to helping refugees: see the article here and direct link here. It’s already raised almost $20,000. It may only run for 24 hours though, I’m not 100% certain.

Finally, here’s a link to a petition run by GetUp. It’s an open letter asking the European countries to have decency rather than following our horrendous model.

A Facebook page set up in the wake of Aylan Kurdi’s death has a suggestion. What do you think?

“Hey world community, here’s an idea:

  1. All turn up to the UN for a special sitting an agree on a refugee intake formula. Based on population, natural resources, GDP etc. 
  2. Actually agree on that formula.
  3. Complete a one-off intake as per formula of however many thousands of suffering people.
  4. When they get here, make them feel very very welcome.
  5. Watch those people turn into some of your most grateful, patriotic and dedicated citizens who will take a vehement stand against radicalism in the generations to come.
  6. Each time fundamentalism in any form rears its head, repeat steps 1-5.
  7. Watch fundamentalism decline.

Please share this message if you agree. If enough people share, you never know what may happen.” (Emphasis added.)

How about it, everyone? Can we spread the above message and make it loud enough that the people who need to know will hear?

I’d like to end with this poem, created by Somali poet Warsan Shire. It’s called, “Home.”

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbours running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

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
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

go home blacks
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child’s body
in pieces.
I want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
be hunger
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
I don’t know what I’ve become
but I know that anywhere
is safer than here.


The important thing is to remember the humanity. Refugees are people, just like us, with hopes like ours. Remember that – and spread the word.