June 12, 2015 admin


I can’t remember exactly, but sometime in my teens my father said to me, ‘You’re lucky to have a passport’. Seeing I didn’t understand, he added, ‘You realise how much it matters when you haven’t got one’.
My father was correct; I did not understand. I still thought passports were a dull necessity when you wanted to travel, a bureaucratic detail, a thing you had to try not to forget where you’d put.
Later I learnt more. My father had had relatives who knew exactly what it meant to have no passport; I have the letter in which the Nazi state informed them that they, like all Jews, had ceased to be citizens. My father knew too the price for those to whom no one was willing to offer asylum, the rejected of the earth and sea. The boats with thirsty refugees which we see now, he saw then.
Tomorrow Refugee Tales* begins, ‘A walk in solidarity with refugees and detainees’; it follows ancient paths of pilgrimage on route from Dover, via Canterbury, to the detention centre at Crawley, by Gatwick Airport. Each day there are tales; the child’s tale; the lawyer’s tale. There are also the unspoken tales, the unheard cry of those who never became refugees, not because they didn’t try to flee the threats of death, persecution and hunger, but because they were killed, captured or drowned on the way.
Where should they go? ‘Not here’, comes the response from country after country. But is ‘let them die’ a human answer; are we human if that is our answer?  In July 1938 the United States convened a conference on the refugee problem in the French resort of Evian-les-Bains. Only the Dominican Republic increased the quota it was prepared to accept, allowing Goebbels to wonder why, if they didn’t want them either, the rest of the world could be so hypocritical as to condemn the Germans for their treatment of the Jews. What is needed now is an international discussion leading to policies which are compassionate, reasoned, practicable and humane.
Meanwhile people sleep, or try to, in streets, camps, wherever they can. When we meet them** they are not just ‘asylum-seekers’: they are parents, children, teachers, engineers; they are people longing for a future, for a way to live good lives and make a contribution. We can strive with them to transform their reality. Otherwise the grim verdict of one refugee artist may prove true for all: ‘The land which persecuted me stole my past; the land which would not receive me took away my future’.
I’ve learnt something else since that conversation with my father: ‘passports’ come on different levels. It is possible to rob a person of their internal passport, the right to feel that they deserve to exist, are worthy of respect and love. This is an offence at the deepest level, an almost incurable cruelty, committed most often against children, usually in the most vulnerable years of infancy, as the poet Olive Fraser wrote:
     Summoned, though unwanted,
     Hated though true…
     I was the wrong music
    The wrong gust for you

We are not entitled to make another person feel that he or she is the wrong music, unlovable, unworthy of existence.  In the most frightened and lonely corner of our own heart, do we ourselves not fear just such a fate, dread it more than death?

Get in touch...