Can you imagine the fear experienced by a child forced by violence to flee home with his or her parents who are equally terrified? Having existed (we can hardly call it lived) in a makeshift tarpaulin home for several weeks or even months, your parents announce that one last hope for a better future has emerged. It arrives in the form of a rusty, leaking boat, into which you scramble along with several hundreds of other similarly fearful and desperate individuals, all hopeful to escape the hell which has been their reality since being forced to leave their homes and possessions behind.
Setting out from the shore you head towards an unknown destination, suspecting that if you arrive safely you may well be given a less than friendly reception; seen as an unwelcome intrusion and a “problem” to be confronted by the host country. This is a potential challenge to be addressed if and when you reach the safety of dry land.
This scenario is the bleak reality for thousands of children and their families, distraught and helpless as they reluctantly depart the coast of North Africa in the hope of securing a better future. They flee the wars of Syria, Libya and Iraq, the terrors of Eritrea, Somalia and Northern Nigeria, without any concept of what might be ahead of them, but in a belief that it cannot be any worse than the situation from which they have fled. For a child, the decision has been made, their future shaped by the desperation of their parents. These decisions are not taken lightly and many sleepless nights must precede such dangerous departures.
For some, a successful passage to the shores of Europe enables them to begin a new life and gain a semblance of the security of which they could only previously have dreamt. This may be a first step towards a better life free from violence and fear. But for others the voyage will end in tragedy, with many drowned at sea as their overladen vessels fail to negotiate the hazards of the Mediterranean.
In recent years a fortunate few of those whose flimsy crafts have floundered, have been rescued from the sea through the combined humanitarian efforts of European nations working to provide an emergency service. Harrowing images of these petrified survivors arriving ashore have been seen on television screens around the world. A brief glimpse into the eyes of the children plucked from the sea makes one sure that they will never forget their ordeal. Sadly, for many others the journey ends in tragedy, and I suspect that nobody knows the numbers of those who have perished.
Imagine then how it might feel to be a child who has learned that the UK Government has now announced that it is withdrawing support for these rescue operations. This decision has apparently been made on the grounds that a belief that rescue might be possible will encourage others to make the perilous journey. Can this really be true? Will those parents who are so desperate to escape their violent and helpless existence in order to give their children a better life, really be deterred from what they see as their only possible route to safety by this draconian measure?
In the past the UK has prided itself on its humanitarian and caring attitude towards the oppressed and dispossessed peoples of the world. This week UK government ministers have made a significant departure from this proud tradition. In so doing they have chosen to turn their backs on those who are in greatest need. I cannot believe that this decision carries the support of the British public. If this was the case then I would certainly be feeling ashamed to be British. As it is I say shame on those politicians who feel that they are justified in ignoring the pleas for mercy of so many suffering individuals.