A story of compassion and greed, for people concerned about the refugee situation 2016
The child looked around her. She knew no one at all. Her brother has disappeared the previous day. He said he was going to look for water but never came back. She lay curled up on some rags she had found. Her body was tightly wound into a ball to keep warm. Hunger gnawed at her belly. Her mind was confused, no single thought formed properly. Emotions flooded through her. Shaking and trembling with cold, hunger and fear, she hid her face from the world. No one seemed to be interested anyway. She heard shouts and cries, the sounds of rough men and frightened women and children.
She tried to reconstruct the past she knew, that past which had been shattered by bombs and blood and death. She tried to dream herself back into the life that she had so recently been living…
Her mother cooked at the stove. The kitchen was bright and cheerful, colourful cloth draped the walls. She sat on her father’s knee and stroked his beard. Her elder brother was in the courtyard, she could hear his laughter as he played with his friends. Then suddenly fear came to stay. Planes high above, the sounds of explosions and screams, people running and nowhere to go.
‘What shall we do, my husband?’ asked her mother.
‘We shall wait, there is no place any safer than here,’ said her father.
They gathered in the doorway and watched huge clouds of dust rising in the distance. Her brother flew indoors, aghast and horrified by the noise.
A few minutes later the child found herself on the floor. The air was so thick with dust she could not see across the room. She reached out and felt the body of her father lying beside her, lifeless. Her mother too lay beside the stove, the small flames still sputtered, lighting the dust which gathered on every surface and on the bodies of her parents. She crawled across the room thinking it might be safer to stay low. Under the table cowered her brother, speechless and in shock. She wrapped her arms around him and they remained under the table until after what seemed like a very long time, the bombings stopped.
Then shouts and cries filled the air, wails of sorrow and loss. Someone shouted their father’s name. The man pushed into the ruined kitchen, it was the neighbour, the girl gave a cry.
They were all shepherded out of the ruined houses. She held tightly to her brother’s hand. He couldn’t seem to be able to speak.
There on the rags, curled up, starving and thirsty she couldn’t recall the rest. She didn’t want to. She hoped to somehow get back in time and choose a better way forward, but young as she was she knew that it would not be possible.
She felt a hand on her shoulder, it was gentle and kind like a mother’s hand. A young woman in clean clothing and with a badge in the shape of a Red Cross peered at her. She spoke words that were unfamiliar to her and offered her a bottle of water. Painfully the girl uncurled herself and taking the water drank deeply.
The Red Cross women held her hand and helped her to stand. She felt so weak she could hardly put one foot in front of the other. She was carried to a lorry where a number of other children waited. They all had a bottle of water and a small loaf of bread. Most were silent, quietly nibbling their bread, their eyes hollow. She pushed the loaf they gave her under her clothes. She couldn’t eat.
At a camp the children were put into tents, boys in boys tents, girls with girls. The older girls helped the younger ones to get what they needed – blankets, water and food.
After a second long journey in a lorry they found themselves in a place where houses were still standing, where people were very poor but friendly, although they spoke a different tongue. She was taken in by a family which already had four children. There was a heavy stone in her heart, which seemed to get heavier each time she thought of her parents and her brother. She could tell no one about how she was feeling as her words were not understood.
Meanwhile in the West people shook their heads in sorrow. A few signed cheques to help those in trouble. A few gathered up unwanted clothes and sent them off in lorries to Syria. A small number of brave, adventurous souls went to help in the camps, but most people did nothing.
Some recalled the two World Wars when refugees were accepted, accommodated and cared for. But somehow ‘War Time’ was different. Then everyone had a personal investment in it. Families had members who were soldiers; many knew people who had lost their lives. Sacrifices were made and expected of everyone. The whole of Europe and most of the rest of the world was involved. People could empathise with the loss and sacrifice.
Attitudes are different now. People have grown fat and rich and are afraid of giving up even a tiny bit of their wealth or their freedom to do exactly what they want to do for themselves. They think that they are not involved in this war in the Middle East. They think they can shut it out, shut the borders, close their eyes to it, refuse to recognise the suffering. Let other people in other countries, which happen to be closer but are not involved in the war, let them take the refugees. It doesn’t seem to matter to the West that many of these countries are very poor already, they are expected to share what little they do have with all the suffering and dispossessed peoples.
Many people in countries in the West seems to be losing the ability to be generous and compassionate and instead focus on keeping what they have, come what may. It seems that the more they have the less they want to give. Is this the equality that is spoken about so loudly? It is time for a rethink.
How do you see refugees? Are they guilty and need to be punished for being homeless? Looking back at your family history, or your friends’ families, how many of them have been persecuted for their race, religion, colour or nationality? Who helped them to get through and become happy and productive citizens?
Does your heart go out to refugees when you hear about their suffering?
Do you feel you would like to do something but cannot think how you could make a difference?
How do your friends feel about the situation, are they selfish or generous?
Does anyone express an opinion or do they just keep quiet and hope not to become involved?
Could you afford to give something to the Red Cross or similar organisation that you trust to help these people.
Could you raise some funds by holding an event, large or small, to show solidarity with those who are suffering? Is anyone in your town involved in this? How can you find out?