Monday, 12 September 2016

Volunteers Are Doing the Best They Can.

My guest post today is a letter (reproduced by permission) from Sarah Richard, first published in the JEP about Mark Proudfoot’s letter and putting the record straight.

A few facts first: According to “The Tablet”, The number of displaced people across the world is now at a record high, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, with 4.9 million people and 2.7 million people having fled from Syria and Afghanistan respectively. More than 1 million people arrived in Europe by sea last year, with numbers having reached over 265,000 so far in 2016. In excess of 3,100 people died or went missing crossing the Mediterranean in 2015.

Volunteers Are Doing the Best They Can......
By Sarah Richard

With reference to Mark Proudfoot’s column (JEP 6 September) I had to read this twice to take in what was written.

No one denies that there are huge problems in Calais, with some folk breaking laws in a despicable way. However, it would seem from Mr Proudfoot’s letter he is insinuating that most of the 10j,000 people in the Jungle are law breakers – even worse, he has insinuated that aid groups including those in Jersey “scour the Jungle looking for children to photograph so that they can misrepresent the reality of what is happening”. Am I hearing this?!

Volunteers in whichever part of the world are not supporting criminal activity – on the contrary, they are trying to protect those caught up in it. Aid workers give up their time to try and help others and those who donate are also helping in the best way they can.

To ask Islands to “stop supporting migrants in the Jungle. There are plenty of far more worthy causes here in Jersey” is callous at best – inhuman at worst. People in need are people in need. Yes, there are many in Jersey who also need help – discriminating between them is wrong and basically requesting that the people of this Island stop helping those in need because of a ‘label of where they are in the globe’ is morally incomprehensible from a humanitarian point of view.

My Afterword

Mark Proudfoot raises issues of priority. Who should get aid, and suggests that charity should begin and stay at home.

Sarah Teather (current director of Jesuit Refugee Service UK), writing in the Tablet, argues that the needs are the same, the needs which we are asked to respond to with compassion, and we should address both equally:

Who is our sister? Is she a Syrian in a refugee camp in northern Jordan, without the means to travel further – the one the Government would characterise as waiting her turn, in line, to be chosen by us out of millions for a chance of a new life? Or is she a young woman from Eritrea, who risks everything that her family can scramble together to flee forced conscription in conditions of slavery, traversing continents and oceans, picking herself up after sexual violence, arriving exhausted but relieved to claim asylum in the UK?

Is she a child in Calais, going hungry without money, at risk of exploitation in order to survive? Or is she a child in London, whom the Government is rendering destitute, cutting off her family’s financial support, their ability to seek shelter with friends who rent, criminalising her parent’s attempts to work, in the hope that they will give up their claim for humanitarian protection and be forced to return home?

Is she a bright pupil in South Sudan, displaced by the ongoing conflict, who wants to be a doctor, and who could serve her country if only her school had more teachers trained, motivated and paid to teach her the basics? Or is she the bright asylum seeker displaced by conflict, who longs to serve this country that she calls her own, but who won’t get to university because her immigration status prevents her from doing so?

Who is our sister? With whom do we weep? And what then do we owe her? The yearning for connectedness and for an end to artificial difference suggests that we do indeed “have more in common than that which divides us”. It is a good place from which to begin grappling with such hard questions.

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