Thursday, 3 September 2015

Refugee hell

Like many others, I'm acutely aware of the growing global refugee crisis and the terrible images of desperate people being killed and injured in their attempts to reach a safe haven.

The recent picture of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi being washed up on a beach in Turkey - his brother and mother also died - has dramatically emphasised both the crisis and politicians' inability to get a grip on it.

The current British government, apparently oblivious to the country's proud record in absorbing thousands of refugees in previous decades, is being increasingly hostile to the present flood of refugees, seeking to batten down the hatches and turn them away.

Other countries like Germany have been far more sympathetic and welcoming and have taken in much larger numbers. They've recognised that those exhausted souls struggling through one country after another aren't spongers and scroungers but distraught human beings in dire need of help and resettlement.

But politicians aplenty trot out all the usual absurd excuses for giving them the brush-off. The country's already overcrowded. Public services can't cope. They'll be an endless burden. They're just chancers out to exploit us. They're all criminals and sex traffickers. They're a threat to the British way of life. And so on.

The aspiring Labour leadership candidate Yvette Cooper has suggested the UK could take at least 10,000 refugees on the basis of 10 families going to each large town.

We could surely take many more than that if we really wanted to. If there was political will and human compassion - and even the Dunkirk Spirit - rather than sour-faced hostility. Of course public services are severely stretched. They have been for decades. But they could be expanded easily enough with a bit of ingenuity and determination instead of the usual helpless shrugs.

After all, migrants not only work in the public services themselves, they pay taxes that help to finance those services. So why not take a few more?

The "I'm all right, Jack" attitude of those comfortably-off politicians who won't lift a finger to help the less fortunate is quite sickening.

Pic: Aylan Kurdi's body is taken from the sea


  1. What worries me is that those politicians adopt this attitude because they think that that is the attitude that people want them to adopt.
    Britain will have come to a sorry pass if that is the case.

    1. It will come to the sorry pass where we in the US find ourselves these days.

      When the leadership in a country will treat desperate people with that level of disdain, they aren't going out of their way to do good things for their own citizens, either.

  2. Helen: I think as usual many politicians are out of touch with public opinion. The British public is very much in favour of taking as many refugees as possible, but the government thinks a tough line will win votes.

    Jennifer: Too true. The Tory government is just as ruthless and heartless towards British citizens who happen to be poor, sick, disabled or unemployed. They're generally treated as worthless scum who need a kick up the backside.

  3. and that tiny body... and his family. only one in the tragedy.
    our own continent here is so huge.
    and we still have tracts of land here that are similar to the terrain as those immigrants' own homelands.

    i have just been fantasizing about this...
    what if ALL the millionaire... billionaire... trillionaire celebrities and people that have that kind of money to spend on stupid huge weddings that cost in the millions ... and own four houses... and two yachts... and well...
    you get the picture.
    they spent some of that ridiculous amount of money building cities in that area... with hospitals and schools and gardens and let those people start a new life and become self sustaining as much as possible... they could even help with the building of it.

    WHAT IF that kind of money were finally put to use to do some good.
    i have watched as the kardashian bunch and others like them traipse around the globe flaunting their butts and dollar power... and live like kings on their stupid celebrity.
    when that money could be put with other's like it to help humanity.
    now that would be a cause for celebrity.

  4. I believe that, although we should take more refugees, that really this country is overpopulated now. Compared to France (we can fit three Englands into that space) their population is 50 million compared to 63 million in this country. We already have problems in the city of Leicester, nearest town/city to my home village. Shopping on Saturdays is a nightmare. The immigrants now outnumber the indigenous population, which seems incite running battles in the streets between white youths and Asian youths on a regular basis.

    Maybe Tammy has the right idea. Build more cities with hospitals, schools and decent hosing and let them build the type of society they are used to in the safety of this country.

  5. Tammy: Absolutely. If all the mega-rich crowd gave just a fraction of their wealth, thousands of refugees could be assimilated with no problem at all. But as you say, they just want to traipse around flaunting their wealth and privilege.

    Brand-new refugee cities? Interesting idea. But wouldn't that mean an unhealthy segregation, a kind of ghetto?

  6. Keith: Well, I don't know Leicester, but if gangs of youths are fighting each other, isn't that just a matter for the police to deal with? And yes, the UK has 63 million people but most of them are concentrated in about one third of the country. Much of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are sparsely populated and have plenty of room for migrants.

    Martin McGuinness has suggested that Northern Ireland could easily take 2,000 refugees.

  7. well nick! LOL!
    i never said it was a well thought out fantasy! LOL.

    i think i was thinking they could at least START there.
    they would be clean and safe. at least. and work for their hands to do. that's important for human self respect.

    it's the little children. i simply can't imagine.
    their childhood ... which should be precious... is NON EXISTENT!
    in my fantasy area...
    they could be with their friends. and have some semblance of normalcy.
    and then gradually ... because these people are living in perpetual shock now ... they could eventually then move into our society as all immigrants have done in the past... at their own pace.

    our country (the u.s.) is so rich and huge ... and selfish.
    to my knowledge WE have taken no refugees from that part of the world.

    i totally agree with keith. small countries simply don't have the SPACE! it's not that their hearts are not in the right place...
    it's that you can only put so many bodies on a rock!

  8. Tammy: I see what you mean, the new cities would be a sort of psychological space where refugees could settle down and readjust before moving on somewhere else. Hmmm, maybe....

    It's shameful indeed that the US has been so indifferent to the current crisis and isn't inviting refugees into the States. As you say, the country is so rich and huge, it could easily accommodate tens of thousands.

  9. I hardly think giving $4 billion in aide qualifies as the US doing nothing, The reality is that the US doesn't want to willy nilly invite people from Islamic countries in.

  10. Bijoux: In terms of overall US government spending, $4 billion is a tiny amount. Military spending is many many times higher. The UK has a foreign aid budget of £11.4 billion ($17.3 billion) which is being increased to £12.4 billion. In any case, foreign aid is not solving the problems that are causing the huge outflow of people. So in the meantime we still need to help displaced people who are desperate for a safe haven. If you're suggesting that people from Islamic countries are probably terrorists, that seems rather alarmist. I imagine most of them hate the very idea of terrorism and just want a peaceful place to live.

  11. Great minds...

    My take is a little different on the overall catastrophe that is Syria and the effects of international interference along with the elephant in the room: climate change which has just about obliterated the millions of small farms as the desertification of the land is extreme.

    There will be more and more refugees as this global destruction continues. Water is the new war. And not to far from here either (California).


  12. www: Thanks for the link on your own post. I was unaware that climate change and widespread loss of livelihood was such a big factor in Syria's unrest. Those politicians who think climate change doesn't even exist might get a nasty shock when it devastates their own country.

  13. This explains it better than I could:

  14. Bijoux: Thanks for that. The article does point out the difficulties involved in allowing people in from other countries. Interesting that immigration officials are ultra-cautious because they're frightened of letting in someone who turns out to be a terrorist. Interesting also that some Somalians have caused problems with crime, welfare dependency and Islamic extremism. But it's good that the quota of Syrians to be allowed into the country is to be increased to 8,000 in 2016.

  15. Thank you for giving the boy his name Aylan, I understand that Aylan is probably an Anglicised version of a name which would be written in another script but it is way way better than the "Alan" which I have seen used in several places and which arrogantly assumes that everybody in the world should have a name which is understood by english speaking ears.

    I read an article criticising the use of the photo and the write made some good points about respect for the dead and so on but in this case (as with the naked girl in the Vietnam war) a single powerful picture has created an awareness and a sense of urgency which was sadly lacking.

    I cant imagine what it is like for that father to see photos of his son's body flashed all over the world but I hope that in time he is able to see it as possibly the greatest contribution ever to the plight of his people.

  16. Jean: Thanks for that. It sounds like Syria is in a state of virtual collapse. What with bombing by government warplanes, the expansion of Islamic State, other insurgent groups fighting the government and each other, government forces demanding protection money from the locals (that's a tactic I haven't heard of before), pressure from adjacent religious governments, severe drought, and economic failure, no wonder so many people (even the very wealthy) are now rushing to get out.

  17. Kylie: I didn't know some journalists had translated it as Alan. As if.

    I agree that those sad pictures have really flagged up the refugee crisis to people who weren't paying much attention to it, so even though they might be distressing to the father, they've prompted a lot more action from governments and ordinary folk like you and me.

  18. Nick, thought you might be interested in the Angel's eye witness account. No doubt you will have seen pictures from Budapest main train station. The Angel currently on an extended trip - so far, Berlin, Leipzig, Dresden, Wien/Vienna,arrived in Budapest. Excerpt from his email two days ago.

    "... what I thought would be the simplest journey so far turned out to be the longest and maddest. On leaving Wien at 10 am Hungary announced they weren't going to accept any high speed cross country trains into Budapest, so we had to get off at this tiny border station. It was like going back in time, the platform signs were hand written on signs in roman numerals. No one had a clue what was going on until someone in a high visibility jacket walked along and mumbled something for us all to follow, assuming I suppose that everyone wanted to go to Budapest. So we got on another train which stopped off at every small station and then had to change once more before making it there. It took 5 hours instead of 2 but it made for a much more interesting journey ... On arriving I had got to the wrong part of the city so had to negotiate the tram to the main station. When I arrived I could not believe my eyes...
    I walked out into tent city, complete mayhem. Refugees sprawled out all over the floor, hundreds as far as the eye can see in every direction. You literally have to try and negotiate a path through. Once I got out of the metro I could see the entrance to the main station, 50 or so policemen guarding the entrance and maybe 20 film crews. In front were about 200 refugees sitting in lines like an assembly, some with signs - the one that stands out "where is freedom?". I don't know what they are going to do because they can't leave it like that, its a real shock to the system for a first impression."

    Well, two days on they are moving - in a direction I hope will fulfill their hopes of a peaceful life.


  19. Why can't the Arabs and the Turks take them in? Why don't these people want to go to those countries? Ten years down the line, the asylum givers will be singing a different tune altogether Nick. Mark my words. We are not factoring in other material except our own emotional ones in wanting to giver asylum to these people.

  20. Ursula: That's an interesting first hand account of the chaos at Budapest's Keleti Station. Glad they are now moving after the two-day stand-off. But presumably there are lots more refugees trying to get on trains and there may be another blockade sooner or later.

  21. Ramana: I assume you're referring to religious/cultural differences that will make it hard for incomers to settle properly into any European countries. That may well be the case. I understand that Turkey has taken quite a lot of refugees, but it's odd that Arab countries are refusing to take any.

  22. I'm afraid I agree with Ramana, I think there will be a lot of trouble in the future. Remember the chaos in France with the second-generation Algerians because of the lack of assimilation and job opportunities? There is a lot more to be done than just providing shelter and welfare. It will be interesting to see what happens in Germany. There's a lot more to it than just selfishness or altruism.

  23. Jean: It's hard to predict, isn't it? Some communities seem to assimilate incomers with few problems, while others become hot-beds of tension and hostility. If the number of migrants coming into an area is kept relatively small, I would have thought they could be absorbed fairly easily.

  24. We'll just have to see. As I recall here in town we accepted a lot of migrants from Vietnam years ago and it was no big deal.

  25. Jean: That's encouraging. Let's hope today's refugees are accepted as easily.

  26. Well something had to be done.
    Refugees, or evacuees? I'm wondering when the airstrikes on Syria will begin.

  27. Some very interesting comments on this post, Nick. As you might remember we
    made several trips to Syria before the conflict for work reasons and
    I was very impressed by the society and the way people interacted with each
    other. We received so much kindness and they were very dignified and proud,
    It was a multi faith society, Damascus had a Christian quarter
    with churches and we also visited an area whose churches had been
    functioning since almost the time of Christ and had been converted from
    Roman temples. And what amazing sites there were - wonderful things to see and good people who generally treated each other decently and respectfully despite living under a horrible dictatorship. So I am
    all for doing everything possible to help them to put their lives together (including individuals that I know) and I am totally heartbroken about what is happening in Syria, I just can't say how much it upsets me to hear what is going on and how worried we are for some of those we have lost touch with there.

    Nevertheless this is a complicated question and it could make things worse to blunder into "helping" for heedless sentimental reasons. Cameron has been forced to do the decent thing by public pressure, thank goodness, but many of the refugees are already safe in European countries, but just don't happen to like them. They are not in danger of their lives. They might prefer something different but it is just a fact that Europe cannot provide a better life for eryone who wants to escape their own dysfunctional countries - we have our own lives to lead and our own problems to solve, our own vulnerable and frail people to look after. Also, we should not assume we understand the motivations of people who want to come here so badly even though they are already safe. Some could have been sent by ISIS, it would be the absolute obvious thing for ISIS to do, wouldn't it? And we already have experience of people who were given asylum here who have milked the system and caused no end of misery - Hani Al-Siba springs to mind. I think Cameron is right in trying to help people stay locally to their own countries so they can ultimately return and deal with the sick, vulnerable and elderly they have left behind there and rebuild their lives in a place where they belong.

  28. Scarlet: And the air strikes will no doubt lead to another wave of refugees....

  29. Jenny: Yes, I remember your posts about Syria and Palmyra in particular, now horribly devastated. There is always that risk, I guess, that people entering other countries will turn out to be terrorists or preachers of hate, but I think that's a risk we have to take in order to offer sanctuary to the genuinely desperate.

    That's a good point about helping people to stay locally to their own countries so they can return to those they've left behind. That's probably the ideal solution, but countries like Lebanon have already taken huge numbers of refugees and I think genuinely have problems taking any more.

  30. I think it's a bit naive to imagine that ISIS wouldn't try to get people into European countries under the guise of refugees. It is the obvious thing to do. I'm not saying this is a reason not to take them but we should be aware.

  31. Jenny: I expect ISIS will try to do just that. Hopefully any terrorists will be detected before they do anything horrendous. But as I say, I think that's a risk we have to take.

  32. Here is another interesting article. Germany is committed to making it work. Apparently they think there will be jobs for people there.

  33. The problem is a lot bigger than just taking in refugees who make it to Europe. They were the relatively rich ones. Here's the real disaster.

  34. Link didn't work. Try here:

  35. Jean: Thanks for the links. I'll read them properly later (just heading off to work). I think Germany has many towns where the population is falling and they're hoping migrants will revitalise them. But there is a serious risk, I'm sure, that a warm welcome for refugees will encourage yet more refugees to try their luck. It's all a horrible mess. The ultimate solution is of course to tackle the problems (civil war, drought, political oppression etc) that are forcing people to leave home. But that's a Herculean task.

  36. Jean: Very interesting articles. The second one emphasises the incredible scale of the current refugee/migrant crisis and how governments, charities and international organisations are simply overwhelmed by the problem. The one thing that would ease the situation is an end to all the conflicts and wars going on in various countries, but that doesn't look possible any time soon. ISIS in particular are bent on permanent war and permanent expansion of the territories they control. They're not going to call a truce tomorrow morning.