• Refuge

    The terribly sad shootings in Tunisia just over a week ago were another reminder that, as if we could forget, parts of the world are at war. However painful Western deaths are for us, it cannot be denied that they are few compared those in Syria where so many people have been suffering terribly for years now. Take in the figures of the refugees; four million at the last count, with an estimated seven and a half million displaced inside the country internally. Those figures are difficult to take in and in the face of such tragedy it’s all too easy to turn away, to switch off the news or tune out the knowledge that – a few thousand miles away - a terrible war is still being waged.

    It can be hard to know how to react. Are efforts to support the expatriated ever enough? Is it constructive to engage with the issues of that conflict; the miasma of the thorny problems of the war? How can we help without adding to the problem, without being sucked in to the mire? There are the huge international humanitarian efforts of course and it is only right that we should do our best to bolster them in every way we can.

    Then there are the issues of countries taking in those fleeing the fighting. It has to be said that our government’s record is pretty shameful on this; despite pledging hundreds of millions of pounds to the humanitarian endeavor we have taken in just over 3,500 Syrian asylum seekers, with only ninety admitted over the last year through the vulnerable persons relocation scheme. This is compared to Germany’s 30,000, though the intake of other European countries numbers is still relatively few, with the exception of Sweden and Norway. Last year some 200,000 refugees sought asylum in Germany alone. Meanwhile, a raft of British charities recommended that the UK take in 10,000 refugees; and that would only account for our share of a western adoption of 5% of the total Syrian refugee population. To put that in perspective, Britain took in 100,000 Jews before WWII and 19,000 Vietnamese boat people in the seventies.

    Or consider the burden being carried by other Middle Eastern states; some six million refugees in Jordan with over a million more who have crossed the border into Lebanon; over a quarter of that country’s population. Turkey hosts another million, 30% of them in government-run camps. We should remember their plight among all the many migrants at Calais seeking a place of greater safety, to paraphrase the title of the book (which describes another time when those fleeing the bloody repercussions of a revolution sought to make their way across the English Channel).

    Sadly it appears that there can be no real peace in Syria till Assad goes, for crimes too many and well documented enough that I won’t distress you with the figures here. Whether he must face trial or leave the post by his own volition in exchange for some anonymous refuge to help bring peace more quickly is another issue and beyond my own ability to say. But it’s hard to see a future where his torture archipelagos persist.

    What’s clear of course is that he’s waging war on his own people and that they continue to suffer terribly under his bombardments. This certainly gives traction to renewed calls for a no fly zone in the country; it may be the greatest chance the population has for restoration of some kind of relative peace. It would also help stop more civilian deaths from Western warplanes, a thing we hear little about.

    While war rages there and over the border in Iraq, perhaps one of the most constructive things we can do as concerned people is encourage religious scholarship and look for any avenues that undermine the narratives of groups like Isis; as their ideological power wanes it would help remove a central justification of Assad’s war against his countrymen. I hope for a better future for Syria and the wider region and that the knowledge that the world is so full of concern for the place can help give some kind of succour to the people living there, to all those in the camps or otherwise displaced in other countries. I hope and pray they see an enduring time of peace in the days ahead. God knows they’ve waited long enough.

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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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