November 13, 2015 admin

For this we are all responsible

‘Stay here in Canaan; don’t go to Egypt because of the famine’. In this manner God prevents Isaac from becoming the second environmental refugee in Jewish history. The first was Abraham, when hunger forced him to seek the mercies of Pharaoh.
Yesterday I was at the refugee camp in Calais, with an interfaith group of leaders. In an hour I’m off to join the start of the pilgrimage to Paris, prior to the climate talks. Refugees; environment: the two concerns, the greatest for our day and age, are devastatingly interconnected.
It wasn’t hard to talk to people at Calais. Many of the young men who thronged the so-called street that made its way among the hundreds of tents and wood-and-plastic-sheeting shelters wanted to speak. Had they crossed seas and walked two-and-a-half thousand miles in search of a future for their stories to be shut down here?
‘Where are you from?’ ‘Afghanistan. I worked with the British army 5 years at Camp Bastion’ His friend was there 7 years. Now they’re stranded here.
‘We’re Kurds. From Iran, Iraq. I taught computers at college.’ ‘We’re Kurds too, from Iran, from Iraq. They try to kill us. Two people drowned from our boat.’
‘I’m from Syria’. The man makes the action children make in playgrounds as if they are holding an imaginary machine-gun. ‘All my family are killed.’
‘Shalom’ says a voice behind me. I hadn’t thought Hebrew would be an asset here; Arabic, Pushtu, of course. ‘I’m from Sudan. I was in Tel Aviv, Eilat; I had a visa, no work. I went back to Sudan, they try to kill me.’ He invites me to his tent, living space for two, smaller than the surface of a kitchen table.
‘I’m a medic. I want to save lives.’ ‘My sister and mother are in the UK; they can’t get me out of here’.
It’s cold as the group makes its way to the Church of St Michael, a place of beauty created somehow midst the turmoil by refugees from Eritrea. A man stops me: ‘It’s winter soon: the rain; the snow; the cold.’ He points around at all these people; what are they to do?
Amongst ourselves we share our impressions: It’s an abomination. It’s tragic. This place ought not to exist. Here, in the heart of 21st century Europe! What’s to be done?
‘Doctors are needed, to volunteer at weekends. Money will be needed for decent winter meals. And here is far from the worst place. Think of the Balkans, the Turkish borders, Greece…And that’s only the immediate necessities. The real need is for a path to their futures. There has to be an agreement across Europe.’ Yvette Cooper, chair of labour’s refugee taskforce, speaks to us eloquently: such suffering should not be, especially for the children.
Back home, I’m asked why these people want to come to the UK. (Compared to the total numbers of refugees, the figures are small.) Many have family here. An expert in post-trauma work explains: ‘An island country with a reputation for civic accord, where the police don’t carry guns, where it’s known people smile in the street, has a special appeal for those fleeing murderous conflict.’
Within the abomination there is also inspiration: the resilience of those we meet, their aspiration to create new lives, the will for life.
What must be done? The short term goal is to give destitute people hope, help and a future. The long term goal must be to stop more and more of the world becoming less and less habitable for political, military and environmental reasons. For this we are all responsible.

Get in touch...