What do refugees have to do with us?

Written by Jo Carroll.


As I write this, the newspapers are full of images of refugees. Crowds sleep in a train station in Budapest. Tents line the streets in Kos. We all know which picture has shocked us the most. It is almost unthinkable, from our comfortable corner of Wiltshire, to imagine the despair that sends anyone to sea in a tiny boat with children.

And in a few days I leave for Nepal. I have friends there. Some found shelter in tents after the earthquake. Most are, at least, able to keep dry during the monsoon. But schools still struggle to find enough books and pens - still buried under rubble. Health centres scrabble around for basic antibiotics.

It is almost unthinkable, from our comfortable corner of Wiltshire, to conceive of the collective trauma of a people who have, literally, seen their homes fall down around their ears.
Here, in Marlborough, our children are going back to school. Life resumes an autumnal shape. Traffic is heavy between eight-thirty and nine. Grandparents can stroll into coffee shops without a child wheedling for ice cream. The supermarket is full of young people buying crisps at lunchtime.
How protected we are from the slings and arrows that seem to beset the rest of the world. Death on a beach in Turkey, or under the rubble of Kathmandu, feels light-years away from Marlborough. It is too far away. There is nothing we can do about it anyway.
It is too easy to slip into thinking that it has nothing to do with us. That wringing our hands in horror is enough. But these are families with dreams just like our own. They need what we all need – a safe place to stay, food for the table, to love and be loved.

Of course there is a limit to what we can do. There are aid organisations helping to provide shelter and basic amenities. Money can go some way in enabling people to rebuild their lives. But big decisions and logistics have to be on the government’s shoulders.

But what feels most important, from the standpoint of our privileged Wiltshire town, is that we neither wallow in our own helplessness nor wash our hands of such suffering. For some, all you can do might be to think of them. But that, surely, is better than turning your back.

As for me, I’ll let you know how I get on in Nepal.


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