• Human Tides

    Spring is here in England, a time of love and bloodyminded hope. But we know that away from the riversides, down from the hills, past the rows of the serial houses in their parallel and seemingly never-ending lines, only just over the thin band of sea, thousands of people are still enduring truly miserable conditions, holding out for the dream of some kind of better life, or simply driven by an instinct to survive.

    We all of us know they are there, just as we all know of the numbers of refugees in Europe, of the cruel dynamics of distant wars and unrest. It’s wrong to think that people are simply not aware or bury their minds through not caring. It’s more like a kind of white heat of the knowledge of the massive human need. But even when we face up to the scale of the problem, we know we have a duty for the refugees. Shunting them out of public sight, spending resources on fences and ‘keeping them out’ is surely a rough denial of this charge. We must still respect and enshrine the need for human dignity and be clear that places of refuge in Europe should at the very least live up to the standards required of the most basic refugee camps. We should all push for a greater drive to address the situation, to make life better for the people so close to our shores, to accommodate those that we can.

    That conditions at the camps at Calais and Dover are a searing indictment of Europe’s ability to provide what should be a given is equally a token of the burden on us all. We can’t afford to look away or hope the problem will just disappear without sufficient engagement on our part. Perhaps too we are aware that in this age of climate change, wars for resources and tensions in the Middle East - some of which go back for a century in the face of the great Western-led carve up of traditional borders, as well as more recent colossal mistakes - we will have to learn to come to some kind of greater provision for the mass movement of people. For as much as the challenge is daunting, it is the global South, as Caroline Moorehead wrote recently, that is facing the larger part of this crisis. It may well even be that this wave of immigration could be part of the answer to the West’s problem of a top-heavy and aging population.

    What’s clear is that old certainties and clinging to a sense of former order do not address the realities of the times we are in. If that seems in any way a stretch we must still be informed by our wishes for compassion and a decent provision for those who have placed themselves at our mercy. We cannot revert to what has been termed a new brutality. We must find ourselves fit for these extraordinary events.

    Perhaps that’s why the recent Dubs amendment has caught so much of the public mood; from the sense that for some children at least we can make a real difference in the face of what can seem insurmountable odds. The numbers remain undefined and it’s down to us all to now make our voices heard amidst local authorities who carry the responsibility to find homes and places for these children, whose drive will determine the numbers we all can take in. It may seem a small thing given the scale of the challenge but it is at least a start and a sign of what can be done when people engage with the issue - however tawdry the political process itself may at other times seem.

    We all of us know of the almost intolerable burden of seeing, reading and hearing about the refugees, of the silent press of an invisible force of expectation, of the will and the need to do something in the face of almost incomprehensible statistics. We all need to know how to go on. Perhaps our best hope is to never forget all those over the sea, to never let ourselves think this is someone else’s problem, that the migrants are driven by forces that do not concern us, that humanity is still somehow tiered and we can afford to push away the pixilated numbers on our screens.

    These times should be a wake up call such as we have not seen since the end of the Second World War. That era, marked with such uncertainty but also a resurgent human spirit ought to be able to help to spur us on. We can still have our dreams of what humanity can look like and are being called upon to demonstrate them now. The Dubs amendment may be a drop in the ocean but it’s one that still shows what we can do. Let’s build upon it for the sake of all those unaccompanied children in Europe and further afield, whose fate stands as such a stark accusation and which scours us all with the knowledge of the need we have to act.

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branchlines

The posts here originally grew from a website that was set up to advertise a book that describes things a long time ago. That book was always intended to address more than any single issue, even if it encompassed that as well.

At its broadest, I hoped it could help express how things can be when anyone of us acts on behalf of the environment, of their community, of our collective future itself. It was informed by far more than simply the times it describes; it was an attempt to articulate a feeling that has carried on and grown and means more than just a narrow 'us and them'.

I'm mainly working on other writing at the moment but thought there was probably something to be said for keeping these posts online while the issues they deal with remain relevant. I hope you find something on these pages that proves of interest or use as we all rise to meet the new times.

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