Comment Is Hard

The current refugee crisis in Europe has held my attention throughout the summer. From shocking images to moving stories. From politicians who don’t know when to keep their mouths shut and their borders open, to outpourings of support, reassuring many that humans still have the capacity to be moved and to care.

We are living through an era that historians will pour over in years to come, an era that may reshape our culture and countries as we know them. For the better, I believe. We are living through a crisis that many of us have never seen before, at least not on our doorstep.

The complexity of this issue has made me hold back from writing about it before. The fear of negative reactions as well as the fear of getting it wrong, especially, has kept me silently poised over a mental keyboard in my head, but never typing. Until now.

The fear comes from many places, but not least because words have become so loaded. And that’s where I’ll start: migrant, refugee, asylum seeker. Terms that can be used positively or negatively depending on the rest of the sentence, your political and philosophical leanings, or the tone of your voice.

One thing I’ve been frustrated by is the seeming lack of ability to use the most accurate and simple term. People. We are, after all, simply talking about people. Other humans.

I’ve been accused of being an idealist before, and, as I don’t see having ideals as a failing, I’m sticking to them. To me, it’s obvious: we have to open our borders and welcome those who are escaping war and death. To me, it’s obvious: we have to do what we can to support stability in some of the most torn apart areas of the world.

It’s obvious, but it isn’t necessarily simple. I get that. I really do. How do we do anything about this, really? I’m scouring the news, informing myself as much as I can and proudly “liking” every article that supports the idea of welcoming our refugees. And I am wondering how helpful this really is. Do politicians really listen? I sent wash items and notebooks to a charity drive. A start. I signed a petition. A start. But, how do we sustainably support this cause? Because it’s not going to be solved anytime soon.

Another barrier making commenting on this issue so hard is that it is hugely divisive and polarising.  Apparently, you’re either a soft-hearted liberal with no concept of the real world or a hard-hearted racist bigot without a caring bone in your body. Just read the comments section under any Guardian or Daily Mail article.  Some people, many people actually, simply want to understand this situation more. They, not unreasonably, want to know how money will be used to provide food, housing and education for people. They want to understand and they want politicians and people in power to be accountable. It doesn’t make them anti-immigration. But it does seem hard to ask those questions without being accused of being.

Understanding and commenting is also hard because we don’t often hear the voices of the people arriving? They’re at the mercy or otherwise of journalists and reporters to spread their message. They don’t get much of a chance to tell their story. They are always ‘they.’ Just like I’m guilty of doing now, people arriving in Europe from around the world are bunched together under labels and not considered as individuals. We talk in terms of quotas, nationality or arrival location, but never in terms of individuals. Mothers, fathers, doctors, electricians, basketball lovers, hockey players, writers.

My comments here are rambling at times because this topic is confusing and complex. My comments are always in favour of supporting people escaping war because I believe we always should. My comments will make very little difference, but perhaps they’ll strike a cord with others who are confused, frustrated, and ultimately want to see this generation go down as one who stood up and were counted when others needed them to.

Ultimately History will be the judge of how well we do. But, as far as I can see, everyone can gain if people can find peace, host counties gain new individuals and we make person the only label anyone should have.


Here are some useful links for people looking for more information and ways to help:

  1. Article in The Local for English speakers wanting to help in Germany.
  2. Stadt Heidelberg’s page for supporting refugees in Heidelberg (in German)
  3. The Independent’s tips for helping in the UK
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