Tuesday, 20 September 2016

The Refugee Problem

Douglas Adams once said, "Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experiences of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so."

And how right he was. A little over 70 years ago, the Nazis took it upon themselves to rid the world of Jews (this is Ken Livingstone's working definition of the word 'Zionist'). They nearly succeeded in part because the rest of the world turned a blind eye to what was going on, more concerned with bogus fears over national security than stopping the world's greatest crime from happening. Anne Frank, perhaps the most famous victim of the Holocaust, was just 15 years old when she died. Had her asylum application to the United States not been denied she may very well be still alive, 87 years young. Who knows what she, and many others, could have...no, would have achieved, but for irrational fear, selfishness and apathy.

We are faced with a situation not too dissimilar today. Instead of learning from our mistakes, the world is becoming increasingly hostile and isolationist. Instead of embracing those who need our support the most, we are turning our backs, sticking our fingers in our ears and saying it is not our problem. Others, such as MP David Davies, have said we should force refugees to undergo dental checks. Heaven forbid we save a 19-year-old posing as a 17-year-old. The son of the GOP's presidential candidate has compared deciding whether to help the most vulnerable to deciding whether we would eat a handful of skittles. The correct answer, by the way, is that we never eat skittles because skittles are vile but we do help refugees because we can; because they are human beings; because humanity, if it means anything at all, must mean helping the helpless, protecting the vulnerable and supporting the weak.

The Jewish story is inextricably linked with fleeing persecution and hatred and attempting to make a life in a new and scary country. It is also inextricably linked with succeeding in those countries. Israel, a country with a huge refugee population succeeds primarily because of its diversity and demographic. To turn our back on refugees now is to refuse to learn the lessons of history. Just as we look back at the Holocaust and wonder how it was allowed to happen (yes allowed to happen) on our watch; how the world sat back and let the Nazis murder 6 million Jews for being Jews, so too will future generations look back at our failures to respond effectively to this refugee crisis with shock and disbelief.

Anne Frank and so many other Jews might yet be alive today with we displayed just a smidge of humanity. Surely we cannot make the same mistakes again. As she once said, "How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world."

This article has been updated once on 28th October 2016 to include comments made by MP David Davies