“Before you do anything, stop and recall the face of the poorest most helpless destitute person you have seen and ask yourself, Is what I am about to do going to help him?”
Having written about the UK government decision to withdrawal from the support of rescue missions for those refugees trying to flee oppression and who find themselves in difficulties at sea (Will anyone come to the rescue of these heartless politicians November 1st 2014), the callous nature of this policy received a renewed emphasis in a report from Reuters news agency today. It was announced a few hours ago that Turkish fisherman and coastguards have pulled 24 dead bodies from the sea at Rumeli Feneri near the mouth of Istanbul’s Bosphorus strait, after a boat carrying dozens of asylum seekers sank. One of the fishermen stated that “there were bodies everywhere, including babies and children.” Those aboard the boat were believed to be seeking possible asylum in Bulgaria or Romania. Once again the desperate plight of individuals is highlighted by this sad report.
A regular respondent to this blog Anita, posted a reply to my earlier blog, suggesting that when there are desperate situations that do not immediately impact upon our own country, we care far less than we would if we were more directly involved. I am sure she is right, but should compassion become a localised emotion?
In my role as a teacher I have been privileged to visit countries in many parts of the world, and my experience has invariably been that I am treated with generosity, kindness and respect by the people with whom I have worked and engaged. My travels have at times taken me into poor communities, where I have found that people who have very little are more than willing to share everything they have in order to ensure my comfort and welfare. I have always felt secure in such situations, where I am sure that the people with whom I am working or living amongst would do their utmost to make me feel welcome and safe.
Often the experiences of the people with whom I work are vastly different from my own. Their cultural, religious and socio-economic foundations are quite alien to my own upbringing and experiences, yet we usually manage to find much to share in our common humanity and a respect for each other. Fortunately I have rarely found myself needing to make demands of my international colleagues, and have never found myself in a traumatic situation where I might be totally dependent upon their good will and sense of responsibility towards a visitor in distress. However, should such a situation arise, I am confident that I would be in safe hands and looked after with the utmost care. I hope that I can honestly say that if this situation was reversed, I would do everything within my power to ensure the safety and care of any visitor to my own country.
Anita makes an important point. There is a danger that in putting self-interest at the top of our agenda, we begin to see others almost as characters in a fiction, as mattering less than ourselves. When this happens it is easy to deny that we have any responsibility to those who appear to be different from us, and to ignore their situation, even when this is one that is characterised by suffering.
If we persist with an attitude that suggests that we do not have the time or inclination to care for those in need, when our situations are reversed will we expect them to come to our aid? Are we content to assume that this can never happen to us? It is to be hoped that even at this late hour human decency will prevail and our political masters will recognise that their responsibilities should extend well beyond the parochial.