Monday, 21 September 2015

Refugee numbers are big but it is the individuals who matter

It was the books of Lyn MacDonald bringing to life the experiences of soldiers in the Great War which changed everything for me. Studying history, ancient and modern, seemed until then to be all about dates, scale, win or lose. The big story about WW1 was the telephone numbers of casualties. Almost 60,000 on Day 1 of the Battle of the Somme, 19,000 dead. Millions of dead and wounded on both sides. Lions led by donkeys. All these headlines typify how history seemed until it became personal - not for me but for every one of those who experienced the events which make up the narrative. Every unit of statistics is a story - a biography of a person, usually involving other people, who knew, loved, hated or otherwise encountered them. Lives lived, enjoyed, happy, sad, ruined, concluded.

Now, once again, we are in the midst of a numbers storm. Millions of people displaced, hundreds of thousands in camps, tens of thousands perilously crossing seas, thousands of political pawns. Then a picture is published showing a dead boy and we realise that migrants are refugees; refugees are people, individuals who also had lives in their places of origin as bank managers, scientists, engineers, cooks, school-children, with families, friends . How desperate these must have been to leave these lives, to face walking, limping, swimming, starving, with no known destination. Every one a story, a life, a human.

This is why refugees must be found homes among those who have the wherewithal to provide. This is why shutting them out is not appropriate and shows a deficit in leadership and humanity. This is why those who have played a part in creating the chaos the Middle East has become have a duty to those displaced by the deployment of Western arms. What are these individuals supposed to do, who find themselves with nothing, in the middle of alien countrysides, facing hostility, starvation, or a future worse than the ones they fled. This is why we as individuals too should think how to change things.

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