No Man is an island 02/10/2016

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© Calais Map by Esme Mull

‘No man is an island entire of itself… therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.’

Terminology like ‘refugee’ and ‘asylum seeker’ have become prevalent in media. The terms are not neutral; they carry their own baggage. The person’s prior occupation becomes irrelevant, his or her identity and ethnicity indistinguishable from the mass, and as for culture – cancerous. Once ascribed the title, there is no way for it to moult – it becomes an insidious character trait. For those who do not drown in the Mediterranean, they become submerged in a cacophony of political bureaucracy.

The way in which refugees have been depicted, and the connotations of this, has contributed to forming certain impressions. Some portray refugees as diametrically opposed to ‘Western’ values – for them the term refugee has become synonymous with terrorist. In contrast, others pertain that refugees share values that we hold precious: family, democracy, and education. However, given limited resources, which are being further constrained under current circumstances, refugees are an unaffordable luxury. This was the predominant view within the European referendum, with NHS, schooling, wages and housing limitations garnering wide support amongst the electorate for Brexit. In both instances the haze surrounding the discussion is augmented by fear. Refugees are reduced to either a ‘swarm’ that will infiltrate every orifice of society or they are a drain on the treasury.

Subsequently, instead of figures and statistics being the impetus for wider engagement, they have fuelled domestic paralysis towards the crisis. In September 2015 the harrowing image of Alan Kurdi invigorated a furore of public support. However, a year on and the compassion for those affected by the crisis has fatigued, being replaced by political posturing and right wing scare mongering.

The situation we find ourselves in is not particularly unique. Derogatory and xenophobic remarks towards Jews were prevalent prior to World War II. In that instance, petitioning and moral obligations eventually dictated government policy in coordinating the safe transport of 10,000 Jews to the UK. Historical remnants of the Kindertransport must not be disregarded for a politics designed by fear and franchised by Trump.

In the most recent census carried out by the charitable organisation ‘Help Refugees’, 1,022 children have been found living in the Calais ‘Jungle’ camp alone. These children are at risk of trafficking, sexual exploitation and child labour, horrors so alien to our everyday norms, that they represent a fiction to our reality. Most recently a 14-year-old boy died trying to reach his family in the UK, despite being legally entitled under the Dublin III Amendment. This poses a stark contrast to the rights of children espoused by the British government and the media for those possessing a UK passport.

The voiceless need advocates. Within rhetoric, words such as ‘swarm’, cannot be used frivolously with a flagrant disregard for whom they concern. Aggregate statistics cannot be used to shroud the individual struggles of those who make the perilous journey. Additionally, fear cannot be a defense for reneging on our duties.

The conversation surrounding refugees and asylum seeker must be viewed within its proper context. Thus far the government attempt to tackle the crisis have been derisory. The mantra of the late MP, Jo Cox ‘there is far more that unites us than divides us’ is waning unless we appreciate the severity of the situation and the individual value of those affected. The refugees are not responsible for failing domestic policy and should therefore not be burdened by it. Only pressure from within the country will create the necessary impetus for change.

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© Shelter by Esme Mull