because none of us is fucking up like we think we are, is what i'm trying to say

Imperfect and Willing

It’s the words we use to talk about refugees that bother me the most. It bothers me because I’ve done it too, not realising, without thinking, because I had (have) no real context for the plight of other people. Other people who are a different colour, a different religion, a different tongue, and all that way away.

I am white, and British, and middle class, and whilst I can nod and add a pseudo-intellectual aside recycled from the comments section of The Guardian at cocktail hour, noting how sad the misfortune of those not of my (purely by luck) geographical standing is, I’ve never really, truly, felt before like I had to do something. That I could play a role in the lives of some “poor brown folks”, photographed crying and desperate on the homepage of my favourite website as I skip through to read my horoscope, not so much ignoring the headlines and not seeing them in the first place.

Any glimmers of guilt tugging at the hem of my conscience could, should they seldom arise, be quieted with the knowledge that I spent a gap year in Sri Lanka, at a Tamil orphanage, and make the occasional “Save The Children” donation.

I’m disgusting.

I’m disgusting, but I also know I’m not alone in my ignorance. I grew up in an environment of Daily Mail readers and Thatcher-voters and believers in every (wo)man’s right to make their own capitalist destiny, and went on to work a fancy media job in one of the most costly cities in the world, just like of so many my peers. I’m not talking down to anybody, here. I’m holding myself accountable because my attitude has been gross. But I am learning. I hope those more schooled than I can be gracious about sharing what they know, over condemning me in moral one-upmanship.

I’m in Istanbul right now, staying with a friend working for a foundation that aims to set up assistance for displaced Syrians. And do you know what my first question to her was? I had to ask, humbly and embarrassed, Kristy, what even is the Syrian refugee crisis?

What I understand is this: in March 2011 peaceful protests against the failing government saw that government respond violently. Because violence breeds violence, rebels fought back, and now, 220,000+++ deaths later, everyone is fighting everyone; there’s secular and Islamist fighters, different factions and ethnic groups, and it has displaced millions of civilians. No side really cares about civilian casualties. Half the country’s pre-war population needs humanitarian assistance, and so d’uh: those watching their fathers and aunties and neighbours and teachers and friends get caught in the crossfire are leaving Syria any which way they can. Just like I would. Nobody leaves home without damned good reason.

Leaving Syria means families crossing overland and walking for miles upon miles into neighbouring countries that don’t want them: Jordan and Lebanon, or Northern Iraq (who have their own displaced population to deal with, too). There's a desert between there and the rest of the Middle East, so more and more have headed to Turkey (and thus into Europe), and I see them as I walk to get my £3 cappuccino, an “immigrant” here myself, their hands out, begging to be noticed. Seen. Heard.

Refugees walk over their boarder at night, to avoid being shot at, but many young men get captured and forced to fight for the regimes. Pretty much, there’s only two horses to bet on for eventually ruling Syria: al-Assad, the guy using chemical weapons on his own people, or ISIS – the self-funded “Islamic” terrorists.

(I say “Islamic” because Islam actually means “peace”, and those motherfuckers are anything but peaceful. They aren’t Muslims. They’re extremists hiding behind the Qu’arn and it is terrifying. Utterly terrifying.)

Alternatively, sometimes leaving means swimming oceans to neighbouring countries that don’t want them either, and drowning on the way.

The EU is now facing the largest refugee crisis since World War II. Those that make it to Europe aren’t doing it to steal our jobs and assault our women and scrounge off the NHS, like the headlines I largely believed, or at least never thought to dispute: they’re doing it so they live to take another fucking breath. And what did we do? Deport them. As Syrian refugees arrive on European shores, we packed them back off to where they came, hiding behind "well that's EU law". Normally they came from Greece or Italy, where they risked their lives to arrive by boat. Not our problem, we say. We’re “full”. Bye-bye.

FURTHERMORE: the “reception centres” they got sent back to are overcrowded and unsanitary. I used to think of the people in these places as somehow “other”. I did. I will say that. They are not “other”. They are doctors and lawyers and teachers and housewives and students and humans exactly like me, and you. Some inherent racism with a dose of xenophobia in my mind really did peg “the brown people” within the context of: “well that’s what it is like in their countries”.

Gross. I said that already, but I know. Gross.

I feel like I’ve been asleep in my own ignorance and I just woke up. Most Turks don’t want Syrian refugees here any more than Cameron wanted them in the UK, and it is heartbreaking. But more than that – it’s dangerous. Refusing to allow Syrians – or any other refugees, for that matter – the opportunity to integrate into our communities feeds the extremism they, the displaced, are trying to avoid. Because begrudgingly accepting a handful of “others” isn’t an option. Not giving these people legal U.K. (or EU) (or American) (or Australian) status means they can’t work, will forever be marginalized, live on the outskirts of our society. What happens then? Half the refugees are kids, and they are growing up to see a Western world that gives zero shits about them. It’s prime breeding ground for an organisation like ISIS to swoop in and give them purpose. That’s how I'm seeing it, still learning and trying to understand, imperfect but willing: either we continue their education, or else ISIS will. You see it here already: Syrian teenagers being held at the throat by frustrated Turkish bar owners, sick of them begging already. The way they fight back, disenfranchised and isolated. Ghosts. Unseen and hated, all at once. Treat anybody like that and they will find a way to eventually be heard. 

I'm still wearing armbands in the grown-up's pool, and am no policy expert, but surely we need a system that will allow the people who need our help the chance to enhance our communities by becoming a part of them. We can teach them our language and exchange cultural reference points and for fucks sake: they are QUALIFIED, ABLE, INTELLIGENT people! Refugees aren’t refugees because they did something wrong. Because they’re stupid. 

I'm writing this as a declaration that not only will I adjust my language to alter my thoughts about political refugees, but I will actively curate the language to welcome them because what other fucking choice is there? If we don’t look after our fellow human beings, something far more sinister eventually will. The time is now to demand political world change through kindness. Acceptance. Humanity.

By doing nothing, we're raising our own enemies. By doing nothing, we're our very own enemy, too.

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