Like most people, I felt wretched last year when I saw The Independent’s front page of Alan Kurdi, the three-year old Syrian boy lying face down in the sand after drowning in the Mediterranean sea – his family trying to get to Europe, from war-torn Syria. Then came the disappointing rhetoric of my government, but like most Britons I knew that more could be done. It wasn’t until this newspaper’s ‘refugees welcome’ campaign, that the British public finally got behind the refugee and migrant crisis. But then came Brexit, and so much more.
As a nation one year on after Alan’s death, we have stopped caring about those who are fleeing conflict or persecution and includes a migrant. I no longer see empathy for refugees like I did. Monday gone, we saw the removal of migrants from a Calais camp in the awfully named ‘Jungle’. Many wanting to get to the UK for a better life. I was in an argument with a Brit on Twitter who said the migrants had used this name themselves, him completely missing why they did. Their living conditions had been pitiful, and squalor. The camp was symbolic of Europe’s migration crisis, and how we have not done enough.
Not so long ago, I took a trip by land to East Europe to get a feel of what other Europeans thought about the refugee crisis. I’d only seen negativity about this part of the world, in particular Hungary. I learned quickly that not all people agree with their governments. One Hungarian guy I met described himself as a socialist, whilst another said he was a liberal, even in a place like Hungary and both acknowledged more could be done to help the refugees. My vision of Europe full of hatred towards refugees was fast disappearing.
After the second terror attacks on Paris this year, I was expecting a backlash from the public towards refugees and it did come in particular through social media. The images of dead Syrian children on our European beaches were soon forgotten, with many of us seeing those with the same background as the enemy. Is this when we stopped caring?
As a British European, when we are at our best we are great. But we’ve lost our way. Next month we honour the men and women who fought bravely for us, and gave us our freedoms. They battled hate, fascism and intolerance and gave those less fortunate than ourselves a chance at a better life. Where has this British spirit gone? After Alan’s death I wrote a post on Facebook supporting the refugees which was widely shared, and embraced. At look at it now, and it is hateful comment after hateful comment.
If it wasn’t for The Independent’s ‘Refugees Welcome’ stance, I doubt very much whether the UK Government would have made such a u-turn in the face of a public outcry to help and let more refugees into the country when it did. We’ve still a long way to go, like the slowness to help the children of Calais recently. No one expects Britain to take every refugee and migrant, but we can and should take our fair share. History will judge us. With terrorism and Brexit following so much suffering by the refugees, my fear is that my country is moving more towards the right and becoming uncaring.
Just Thursday gone 90 refugees drowned in the Mediterranean as a boat capsized off the coast of Libya on their way to Europe, with 2016 officially becoming the deadliest year on record for people trying to come to Europe.