Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Syrian refugees, Jewish refugees, and inadequate responses.

David Cameron has declared, with great solemnity, that Britain would “live up to its moral responsibility” by allowing in some of the refugees from Syria.

He then announced that living up to that responsibility meant committing the country to taking twelve refugees a day. Out of the four million that have already fled the fighting in Syria.

That reminded me of a wonderful, late friend of ours. Bob was born a Jew in Vienna in the twenties. He was there as German troops entered Austria in 1938, and Hitler declared the country part of the Third Reich. So he had the privilege of living as a Jew under Nazi rule for a year or two.

Jews being forced to clean pavements in Vienna under the Nazis
Like most Jews around him, he spent the time trying to get out before it was too late. Eventually, he received permission to travel to Britain with one of his sisters, a rescue for which he would be profoundly grateful for the rest of his life.

What excited far less gratitude was the sights he saw daily in the queue for visas outside the British consulate. I’m only quoting him and don’t have independent evidence that this happened, but as he told it, officials from the consulate would walk up and down the queue and offer priority treatment to anyone who had the means to pay for it. Pay them, that is, not Britain.

Worse than the corruption, however, was that though his sister and he were saved, none of the other members of his family were. Father, mother, the other siblings, his extended family – they all stayed behind and they were all murdered.

Britain had many reasons for not accepting all these Jewish refugees. There wasn’t enough housing. Funds were tight. We had enough problems of our own.

But how does that stack up against the prospect of being subjected to murder in cold blood, in many cases with extreme cruelty beforehand? How does one measure the impact of a refusal to take these people – people, I stress the word, humans like ourselves – against the practical problem of finding housing, of squeezing out a little money to feed them, of finding it in ourselves to offer them some kind of welcome?

Cameron talked about morality. He knows there are already four million refugees from Syria. Taking twelve a day, a total of 20,000 over five years – 0.5% – seems a little low in comparison. A bit like taking Bob and his sister and leaving all the rest of his family to be fed to the gas chambers by the Nazis. And with so few being taken from so many, just imagine the new opportunities for corruption.

There is certainly morality at stake here. But only as a measure of how woefully short Cameron’s government is falling.

No comments: