Yesterday evening I was stuck for something to cook for dinner. I had a lot of random stuff in the fridge (including peppers, onions, half a jar of sundried tomato pesto and some black olives which were possibly on the turn) and so I made a sort of tomato-ey gumbo with whatever I had to hand, and then my eye fell on an odd little box of artisan grain my husband had picked up on a shopping trip a few days before. I’d never used it before, but it looked intriguing.
‘How hard can it be?’ I thought. I measured out the appropriate amount, cooked it as per the instructions, and kept an eagle eye. It smelled strange, but not bad. We ate it all when it was ready, and it was flippin’ lovely – even if I do say so myself. It was only after dinner was done that I thought to put the name of the grain into Google to see what else I could do with it, and one of the first hits I got was that this grain – called freekeh – is commonly used in Syria.
That gave me pause.
I wonder how commonly used it is in today’s Syria. I wonder how many families are sitting down to a meal of freekeh, lamb, cumin and coriander today, right now, in that beleaguered country. It made my meal feel strange within me; the idea that I had eaten the traditional food of a country which has been, and is being, ripped into tiny shreds, shedding its terrified people like dandelion seeds on the wind, made me upset. It brought me face to face, again, with the disgusting reality of our time, the humanitarian crisis which is spreading like an inkblot across the face of the earth.
Nobody can have missed the dreadful images in the media yesterday. I don’t want to describe them, even, let alone link to an article containing them or go so far as to share them here myself. Let it be enough to say that such images, used as clickbait by magazines and newspapers, shared – perhaps in good faith, or in a well-meaning way, by people who were ‘appalled’ – should never have been made public in the way they were. Lives were lost in the most tragic way imaginable. The people were not actors in a movie; they were not posed for effect. They were real people, with families and loved ones and personal histories and dreams of a better future, and they died.
They died, and we used their final images to sell newspapers and drive website traffic.
I am not a policy-maker nor a lawmaker nor even a person who knows, particularly, what the solution to the refugee crisis is. I know every country in Europe is not wealthy, my own included, and we all have problems of our own to deal with. Ireland has a huge homeless population, and many people who live in poverty – at least, by our own standards. We have a massive drug problem, not just confined to our cities. We aren’t good at dealing with immigrants, generally, tending to leave people who arrive here as economic migrants or refugees in ‘direct provision‘ – one step up from prison – for years on end while their cases are ‘processed’. I do not know how to help the people fleeing persecution, war, terror and tyranny in Syria and elsewhere. I just know that we must do something. We must demand that our government steps up their commitment to take refugees, in far greater numbers than they’re currently promising. We must overhaul our systems. We must find space, not only to deal with the people fleeing for their lives who so desperately need our help, but also to deal with our own people who are lost in the system. I don’t accept that there is no money there to accomplish this; I don’t accept that there is no public will to make this a reality. Nobody wants to see a repeat of yesterday’s terrible news. The people of Europe, at grassroots level, are donating food and goods and money in huge amounts to support and welcome the refugees – it’s the lawmakers, and the boundary-guards, who are dragging their heels.
People are not fleeing Syria because they’ve heard Europe is a gravy train. People are fleeing Syria because their own rulers are throwing them to the dogs. People are fleeing because they have no choice. Who would choose to do what they’re doing, unless there was literally no option? And what sort of people would throw up barriers at the other end, trapping those running for their lives against a wall of bureaucracy, stopping them from finding a safer place to bring their children up in? I don’t want to be part of that wall, but it can be hard to avoid feeling paralysed in the face of so much need, so much sorrow, so much desperation and anger and fear.
I don’t know what to do. I just know that we can’t leave people to die. All I’ve managed to do so far is sign a petition to ask my government to step up its response. It feels like such a feeble and meaningless thing, but I honestly don’t know what other action I can take. And who am I to even have an opinion, anyway, just one tiny person in one small country on the fringes of the European continent?
I’m a human being, just like every one of those refugees. That’s who. And I don’t want any more of them to die on the beaches of my continent. Not in my name.