image by Sharon
“Have you heard what Ella said about the Syrian Crisis?”
Caitlin (let’s call her Caitlin) says this to me early one school day, referring to the Ella (let’s call her Ella) who’s mouth is a little larger than her brain at the best of times.
According to Caitlin, Ella had said that the Syrians whose battered boat capsized on their journey to Italy deserved to die, because “we have enough immigrants”; “some people have to die” and “England is for the English only”.
To say that the lives of dozens of people fleeing to safety are worthless, simply because of where their mother was when she gave birth to them, is frankly revolting. However, 57% of the UK would passively agree with Ella’s statements, sticking to the status quo that the asylum seekers crossing from Syria are a buzzing nuisance we should swat at.
The Migrant Crisis, they’re even calling it. The fully-blown calamity in middle-east Asia that’s been occurring for over four years now is only just being noticed, and mostly because of its relationship with the western world. 11 million people are being displaced from a disaster they likely had zero to do with, yet this humanitarian crisis is being labelled as a migration crisis, focusing the issue on them moving from their country to ours and that of our neighbours.
Tell me – is the crisis really ours, or theirs?
Why aren’t we making this about those who can’t stay in their homeland in fear of death or persecution? Can we blame them for trying to bring them and their children into a country they know little about, yet are certain is better than their own native nation? Can you imagine that? Painfully dragging yourself thousands of miles to a whole other country which you know little to nothing about, with no guarantee of safety? Isn’t this exactly what the German Jews experienced in the 1930s (and exactly the same reaction people had towards them as many have to Syrian refugees)?
But that’s not what we’re hearing. In the news, we’re hearing stories of immigrants trying to cross the English Channel and doing disastrous (eye roll) things such as: causing traffic jams, attempting to steal our precious jobs and – even worse, trying to save their lives. They are apparently “swarming” past our borders, contaminating the purity of European land and causing stress to the leaders of its nations who, in retaliation, dehumanize them into small, striped creatures that die with the season.
And that’s what they are right now, isn’t it? They’ve earned their stripes by trekking miles to get to somewhere safer than their war-torn nation, yet the only acknowledgement many of us will give them is putting them in our breaking news headlines, amongst the price inflations and exam results. Then, they will be slipped into the archives of news headlines that are too old to be interesting, alongside #BringBackOurGirls and the Ebola breakout of 2014 – all still persistent world topics, but far enough from our world to be significant.
In other words, out of sight, out of mind.
Time to say it how it is: simply calling them migrants is watering down the situation. A migrant is anyone who moves to another country for any odd reason. So that means your mate who moved to Australia because her dad got a new job there is a migrant, and so is the relative who chose to get their degree in another country. A more specific term for those battling for survival away from their home is an asylum seeker. Although the two terms are ignorantly used interchangeably, an asylum seeker is defined as someone making an escape from political, religious, or ethnic persecution and is seeking protection from the state.
When you stick the label “migrant” and “immigrant” exclusively to those who are foreign-looking and have an accent that doesn’t sound like yours, you’re doing one of two things: (a) racially profiling people (admit it – when has a white person ever been referred to as an immigrant even if, by dictionary definition, they were?) and (b) ignoring the intensity of the situation of those choosing between life and death. Oh – and when the real ISIS soldiers are threatening to kill Syrians who leave their homes to escape, but numerous western countries (UK, Russia, Germany, USA, France…) are bombing those very homes – to them, it isn’t even clear which could lead to life or death.
On the subject of France: no-one can deny the atrocity that was the November 2015 Paris Attacks, or those in Brussels Attacks of March 2016. Targeting Friday 13th, considered an unlucky date in many western cultures, as a day to attack innocent French citizens couldn’t be described as anything but evil, yet the additional deaths in the Belgian capital only increased everyone’s horror.
But, and let’s say this humbly – when you realise that tragedies like this occur daily in ISIS-occupied nations which are out of mainstream media’s sight, you can’t help but see this as more than an isolated attack that needs retaliation. Just compare this to the liberated country of Lebanon – which happens to be largely Muslim and bordered to Syria. Despite the freedom and wide culture the nation has, they were largely ignored by mass media when attacked by Islamic suicide bombers on the same day as France was. It’s almost like their lives don’t matter in the same ways (white) western ones do – even though they live lives relatively similar to ours.
If there is any way we can attack the Islamic State, it’s by doing the one thing they don’t want us to do: accepting those in danger, those who are vulnerable, and those who are so broken that they could be pushed to join ISIS. We have to recognise refugees as separate to ISIS militants, and realise that these people are choosing between life or death: us, or IS. ℘
How Syrians Are Dying – The New York Times
Syrian Refugees in America: Separating Fact from Fiction – The Guardian
Syria after Four Years: Timeline of a Conflict – Vice News