The number is unreal, close to the population of England. Imagine everyone in England dispossessed and looking to flee from persecution, poverty or war. Sixty-three million it is almost too big a number to get one’s head around.
Think too, if you’re British of what it would take for you to leave your home and everything in it and to set out, to you know not where. What would drive you to do that? How desperate would you have to be? It is for most of us beyond our understanding.
Yet, because we do not understand, we tend to imagine those refugees in our own image. We assume that they are fleeing their homes ‘to better themselves’ We assume, with closed eyes, that they risk drowning and starvation, loneliness and exploitation, because they want to ‘better themselves’!
We ascribe to these refugees the standards of behaviour of the high street coffee shop, we think about them from the counter of the supermarket, we make our judgments with full bellies and secure homes. We fear an influx that threatens our comfortable lifestyles, we are greedy through ignorance and we deny our lack of charity.
One must, of course, concede that amongst the 63 million refugees there is a proportion of cheats and scoundrels, jihadis and misfits but that is also true of the 63 million Brits that live here now. Yes, there needs to be vigilance that’s for sure, but that should not be a reason to close all borders and all our hearts.
Of the 63 million, by the way, 40 million or thereabouts stay close to their country of origin, hence 1 in 4 people in Lebanon are refugees. Millions more wander aimlessly and desperately around the war zones of Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Many more escape famine and war from Southern Sudan and others attempt to escape the drudgery of life in Nigeria.
It is true that countries such as Southern Sudan are in disarray because of internal strife, Nigeria is a very rich country which has been plagued by corruption and tribalism for so many years. Kenya is on the brink of collapse, Zimbabwe is being metaphorically and systematically raped by Mwgabe. Africa, as a whole, struggles to thrive on its wealth and undoubted talent.
It is these examples of dysfunctional government that contributes to the hardening of our hearts so that even from our table of plenty we turn our backs on those with genuine need.
In some of these cases, foreign aid is crucial and I believe that the judicious use of foreign aid budgets from the richer countries plays a huge part in rescuing the corrupt and the dysfunctional. These aid packages are instrumental in building a global future.
In the UK, we argue that with stretched services we should cut foreign aid and spend the money on ourselves. This is a point of view of many, perhaps the majority, but it smacks of ignorance of the real need in our world.
It will be a long road with immense difficulties to heal and solve the 63 million problems. Yes, every one of these 63 million refugees is someone who needs someone. Let us hope the richer nations ease their borders and enlighten their citizens to be nationals with pride and internationalists with heart.