DAY 191: October 24th

October 24th, 2016 § 0 comments

Will be remembered by many as a day of misery, uncertainty, chaos, violence. By some, it’s true, as a day of hope – let’s remember them: the first children who qualify for admission to the UK under the ‘Dubs amendment’ to the Immigration Act; a handful of girls, mostly from Eritrea,croydon have just arrived at the sinister Home Office’s Lunar House in Croydon to begin what will certainly be a lengthy process of interrogation before they can satisfy the authorities that they deserve to be admitted to this country, having just been ejected from France.

This could indeed be seen as a double beginning. On the French side, it’s the beginning of yet another attempt at containment; 10,000 non-Europe inhabitants of France are to be removed from their present homes, graded and sorted, and dumped in some unknown destination: as Passeurs d’hospitalités points out, they will allegedly be divided into three categories , ‘children’, ‘vulnerable people’ and ‘others’. What are the criteria for this sorting – and what is to become of those in each category? It’s a parallel of the Last Judgment, of all judgments beyond the grave where souls are weighed and the saved lastjudgseparated from the damned.

At the most basic level, our own, let’s note that these refugees which Britain is congratulating itself about are children and children only. Adults, no matter how much they may have suffered in war, famine, repression, childdon’t qualify under any of our government’s criteria to escape the consequences of the camp clearance. Why not – under the 1951 Convention they should have the right to protection given their well-founded fear of persecution. If you lived in Raqqa, wouldn’t such a fear be well-founded?

Even the children are instantly suspected of fakery, of lying about their age – as any duplicitous Arab (or other non-European) would. What a long way we have come from the spirit of generosity which informed the movement for refugees of a year ago. Racism and xenophobia pollute the public discourse on all sides; reading the poisonous comments of many internet users one must ask if any of them  have ever spoken to a refugee, looked one in the eye, let alone shared a cup of tea? That plain human contact which is the enemy of prejudice seems to have been lost in a virtual world of suspicion and hatred.

As usual I have to return to Izzy for a reminder of the values which we – and thousands of others – share.

“52 people arrived to Chios this morning, on their way they told me how they cried as the Turkish coastguard circled them, making waves and trying to push them back.

On arrival, authorities shouted at them, encouraging their tears and fear.

But dry clothes soothed their cold and bubbles and sweets brought smiles to the children’s faces again.

Sitting with single mothers, making this dangerous journey alone, tired but relieved, clutching babies as the sun rose they showed me videos of the camps in Turkey. Scenes of utter inhumanity filled the screens of their phones, rubbish tips which had become homes.

I didn’t have the heart to dash the expectations they clearly held close to their hearts of the camps they were bound for on the island. I wish I could have reassured them that what Europe has in store for them is better than the scenes they were so keen to show me – unfortunately, I know what awaits them is much the same.

Shame on you, Europe.”

Izzy Tomico Ellis's photo.

I recall that faith leaders (Christian, Muslim and Jewish) joined in welcoming the refugees on arrival. Of course faith is no guarantee of decency, and the most decent souls may well be those with no faith. It’s the ability to see the other’s humanity as deserving respect which will save you – or not – in this crisis.

Let us, then, record this day as the one when the institutions of power in Europe, in their blindness, took a step further towards their own destruction. ‘Calais’, the institution where I’ve worked off and on for a year, may have been extinguished. But its extinction is temporary; and not only because there will constantly be more refugees arriving. There is a ‘Calais’ of the heart which is not going to die.

In the meantime, there is, constantly, work to do in helping those people who have arrived here to make it their home. Britain is, currently, disturbingly not a place where the stranger can feel at home. It must be a priority to transform it, to make it so. We have a great Muslim population, often dating back several generations. Why should the arrival of a few thousand more threaten us?

But perhaps to answer this would take us into the question of who we are and why we have, ceaselessly, been fighting wars against these people – people who have now come back, paradoxically, to claim that Britain is their ‘home’.

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