People are saying that we have become desensitised to the refugee crisis, that we are suffering from ‘compassion fatigue‘.
Since becoming a mum, my tolerance for distressing news has plummeted. My protective maternal instinct combined with a sprinkling of anxiety disorder and a big old splodge of OCD has made it nearly impossible for me to read, watch or listen to tragic stories involving children. This includes tales of miscarriage, stillbirths and childhood death, words I can barely bring myself to type, in case by doing so, I somehow bring harm upon my family, upon my sweet, beautiful blond-haired little boy.
Up until very recently, this selective blindness extended to the refugee crisis and the 1000 unaccompanied minors adrift in the Calais Jungle. Every time I heard sentences like ‘129 children have gone missing from the refugee camps’, phrases like ‘sex trafficking’ and words like ‘lost’, ‘alone’ and ‘scared’ to describe children, my brain did the mental equivalent of putting its hands over its ears and shouting ‘lalalalalalala’ as loudly as possible.
This is not desensitisation. This is not a lack of care for others. It’s hypersensitivity. And it’s fear. But that’s not an excuse for inaction either.
Every time I, or you, put our hands over our ears so we cannot hear, or over our eyes so we cannot see; every time we turn the TV over when we hear something that makes us uncomfortable; every time we choose to ignore an issue that is causing pain to others, we are allowing that situation to continue.
So now I am choosing to open my eyes. And here is what I am seeing:
- Francois Hollande has vowed to dismantle the camp by the end of the year, but it is believed that this will begin much sooner, probably in the next few weeks.
- Despite a commitment by the UK Home Office in May to take thousands of child refugees from across Europe, it has admitted that not a single unaccompanied minor has been accepted.
- Charities estimate there are more than 400 unaccompanied children inside the camp who are actually eligible to come to Britain. Many children who are eligible to claim asylum in the UK are being lost in a ping pong of paperwork between the UK & French governments. Some are still risking the dangerous journey to the UK on their own. Others are considering or even attempting suicide. A 14-year-old boy from Afghanistan was killed on a motorway trying to reach family in Britain, even though he had a legal right to join them. He had languished in the Jungle for 3 months, “waiting so long he lost faith in the system and thought his only option was to risk his life in order to finally reach safety”, according to the charity Help Refugees.
- These children are at danger inside the camp itself, being at the mercy of traffickers and subjected to atrocious living conditions and the constant threat of physical and sexual violence.
- Our government is reported to have spent around £1.9M in building a wall to deter stowaways from entering the country from France. People are dying while we build up barriers.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re a parent. As parents, we owe it to the mothers and fathers of these lost kids to help their children, just as we would help a child that we found lost in our local playground, and just as we would hope that another parent would help our child if they needed it. It’s time that we said to the parents of those lost children: your children are our children too. And we will help to take care of them.
Here are some of the things that I am committing to doing, and I urge you to join me:
- Donate money to help provide mobile phones, backpacks and winter clothes to the unaccompanied minors in the Jungle refugee camp. This is crucial, as the dismantling of the camp is expected to start any day now, and there is no plan to transport the children to safety. Click here to donate.
- Take part in peaceful protests, e.g. this one on Monday 24th October at Kings Cross/St Pancras in which parents are being asked to bring their kids dressed up as Paddington Bear to put pressure on London councils to help unaccompanied refugee children.
- Make a donation to the Calais Women & Children’s Centre.
- Sign this Amnesty International pledge to say ‘I welcome refugees’.
- Join this UK-based solidarity & action Facebook group for ideas and opportunities to help.
- Share the hell out of every article and blog post on this crisis so that people cannot forget or look the other way.
We need to read the distressing articles and watch the awful news bulletins; we need to imagine ourselves in the place of the refugees, our kids in the place of these lost children. And we need to allow ourselves to feel sad when we hear terrible things, like stories of children being pulled dead from the water. And then we need to do something about it.
And most importantly of all: we need to stop looking the other way simply because it’s too painful to look at the problem.