As I write this, millions of Syrian citizens are eeking out an existence under makeshift tents after suffering an exodus unseen in contemporary history. Only the most inhumane spectator could look upon such a situation and believe that it is we who are suffering the crisis. Save Syria’s Children have produced a 90-second film which brings home that inhumanity like nothing I’ve seen to date.
The short film is a mock version of the ‘second a day’ videos so popular with young people on social media – the user films a second a day of their lives for a period of time and then uploads the montage, revealing an evolving series of snapshots of their life.
This one begins with a birthday party for a pre-teen white girl in the UK, her mother presents a magnificent cake and says: ‘make a wish darling’. We then follow the girls year in one second films. We see her surrounded by family, playing with make-up, being embarrassed by her grandma, laughing with friends – the paradoxically beautiful and mundane reality of a life we all recognise. But then we catch snippets of news reports in the background of her life. Growing tensions, violent clashes, live ammunition. While she continues to play, we see the danger lurking at the periphery of her existence. While she plays and sings in the foreground, we see her parents nervously listening to the radio and the TV, and having tense conversations with neighbours in the background. The soundtrack of her life changes from birds, bees and children’s laughter to fighter jets and warning sirens. Before long, she is scared too. The danger is not in the background any longer, but pulled into the fore, disrupting her existence. As bombs drop, her family flee their home for safer shelter. The water runs out, the medicine runs out. Her school is blown to bits. She becomes dirty and disheveled. Her family are reduced to foraging for their food in the woods and parks in which they would once have enjoyed family picnics. Her father is rounded up by who knows what forces. She is seen in a refugee camp with her mother, all the life and joy gone from her face.
The film ends on her next birthday, in that refugee camp, her mother singing happy birthday while presenting a ‘cake’ of a single flapjack on a dirty plate. She finishes with: ‘make a wish, darling’
This video is so important because it makes a point that cannot be hammered home enough – those Syrian refugees are us. They are us. Some people find it hard to see the human tragedy in numbers.
- 1 in 5 Syrians is now a refugee in a neighbouring country will mean very little.
- 270,000 Syrians have applied for asylum in EU countries, nearly 8 million are displaced internally – meaning they are refugees inside their own country.
- Add to that the fall out from war in Afghanistan, and abuses in Eritrea, and you can understand why there were more migrants detected at the EU’s borders in January-August 2015 than for the whole of 2014.
These figures leave some people cold – or worse, scared. They see a tsunami headed for Dover, soon to wash across their quiet, ordered slice of the country. What these people must understand is that each of those lives is just as important as their own. Every bowed, traumatised, crying man, woman and child huddled at Calais, Lesvos, Budapest, or Dover is a person like us – they had a life, a job, a favourite toy, they were in love, they had dreams – and they have been ripped apart by a trauma the likes of us simply cannot understand. They don’t want to be huddled in rags by the side of a road in a country far from home, but life had other plans for them. They exercised every muscle and sinew to survive an unspeakable war, and flee to safer space.
Some EU countries have stepped up to this challenge. Germany defied the Dublin Law’s restrictions on immigrants to welcome in 800,000 Syrian refugees this year – a massive contribution to absorbing the refugee population and reducing pressure on entry points across the EU. German citizens have been so busy donating to support the refugees that police actually had to ask them to stop, as they had more resources than they yet knew what to do with. When coach-loads of Syrian refugees arrived in the tiny German town of Oer Erkenschwick this week, hundreds of townspeople bearing flowers and welcome banners lined the streets to welcome their guests.
In Iceland, a tiny island with a population of under half a million people – 11,000 people have offered to open their own homes to help house Syrian refugees.
What is noticeable about these contributions is they are not based on a cold calculation, or some notion of scarcity – but instead they are backed by principle. Whatever it takes, we will rise to this challenge with humanity. For the individuals, groups and nations taking that approach – the crisis is happening to the refugees, and they have the opportunity to do something about it.
But not everyone sees the world this way. German bigots torched a refugee shelter in Nauen last month, and in a recent YouGov poll a staggering 67% of the British public back sending the troops to Calais to stop migrants entering the UK.
For those people, a crisis is happening to them – not the starving, shivering refugees.
Personally, I choose Team Humanity. Not simply because of our nations historic and current role in the catastrophe but for a much simpler reason. I believe this issue comes down to a very simple question: What kind of person/country do I/we want to be?
We can be isolated, aggressive and cold, or networked, compassionate and open. The decision is each of ours to make – and it’s a no-brainer so far as I’m concerned.
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