Friday, 28 August 2015
Over the past few months there have been increasing numbers of stories in the news about the migrants at Calais who are attempting to come to Britain through the Channel tunnel. There has been increasing footage of refugees attempting to gain access to lorries, or storming the fences at the entrance of the tunnel in the hopes of being able to come here to claim asylum.
And with the footage there has been increased amounts of criticism, of the government for "making Britain a desirable place to come to," of the French police for not doing more to prevent refugees from coming over the border, and mostly the refugees themselves for daring to try to escape from circumstances which most of us cannot even imagine, and to risk their lives and those of their children, in order to find a safe and better life for themselves in a European country.
Even the BBC received a number of complaints for filming a make-shift church in the Calais refugee camp for Songs of Praise, because it showed the refugees as being too human for some elements of the media to want to contemplate.
As a society we have reduced human beings to animals in order to justify the hatred of them.
But in the past week the news has covered a different angle to the migrant crisis. Earlier this week around 200 refugees were thought to have drowned when two boats sank off the coast of Libya, and on Thursday there were shocking reports of the discovery of 71 bodies of what are thought to be Syrian refugees in a refrigeration truck in Austria. And suddenly society is in shock, and asking why we are not doing more to prevent these tragic deaths, and why traffickers are able to exploit the desperation of people who are prepared to climb into a lorry with their children, and allow themselves to be sealed inside, not knowing whether they will actually ever make it to their intended destination.
But we seem to have a double standard approach to all this. We can sympathise with the plight of people drowning off the coast of Libya, and the idea of people suffocating in a truck in Austria is abhorrent. But those things have happened somewhere else, and as such we find ourselves empathising with what they have gone through. And yet for every boat which sinks off the coast of Libya there are hundreds more which make it to the other side, and for every death in a lorry there will be hundreds more people who make it through alive, and some of those will inevitably end up in the refugee camps of Calais, where they will hope to make it across the border into Britain.
The people of Calais who we as a society have dehumanised all started their journeys on boats like the ones in Libya, or lorries such as the one in Austria. A different boat, a different lorry, and any one of the dehumanised refugees of Calais could be one of the mourned dead of Libya or Austria.
In order to gain the empathy of our society it seems that people have to die, but daring to live, to make it through the harshest, most unimaginable conditions means that instead of deserving of empathy for where they have come from, these people are now seen as a scourge on our society, a threat to our jobs, houses and benefits.
I can't help wondering whether people would still be expressing upset and shock if the Austrian lorry had instead been discovered in Dover, or whether people would actually identify the people they may have seen on a news broadcast running towards the tunnel as the same people who could lose their lives on the back of a lorry they might hope to gain access to.