Sunday, September 06, 2015

How to help your family and save lives.

It's very safe here: we're in Tennessee, in a perfect little house we are borrowing from a midwife who has gone out west to her son's wedding. We are cooking, eating,  catching up on our sleep. Amanda's due in a week and her Nesting Instinct seems to be manifesting chiefly in trying to clean out her email inbox. She's also cleaning, washing and folding baby clothes and clean towels. I'm writing a lot, enjoying the lack of cell-phone connection, and the lack of internet connection, and getting things written without distraction. (I wrapped the first draft of a script on Thursday, wrote a preface to SANDMAN:OVERTURE on Friday.) We've felt like a couple for a long time. We're starting to feel like a family.

And the safety feels very fragile, and like something to be treasured.

There's a photo I'm not going to post. You've probably seen it already: it shows Aylan Kurdi, a three year old Syrian refugee, dead on a beach in Turkey after his family tried to get to Greece. It made me cry, but I know I'm overly sensitive to bad things happening to small children right now. I'm reacting as if he's family.

In May of last year I was in a refugee camp in Jordan. I was talking to a 26 year old woman who had miscarried her babies in Syria when the bombs started falling. She had made it out of Syria, but her husband had left her for another woman he hoped would give him babies. We spoke to women eight months' pregnant who had just walked through the desert for days, past the dead and dismembered bodies of people fleeing the war, like themselves, who had been betrayed by the smugglers who had promised them a way to freedom.

I gained a new appreciation for the civilisation I usually take for granted. The idea that you could wake in the morning to a world in which nobody was trying to hurt you or kill you, in which there would be food for your children and a safe place for your baby to be born became something unusual.

I wrote about my time in the Syrian refugee camps here, in the Guardian. (You can read it here: and you should, if you have time. I'll be here when you get back. And here are some photos from my time there:

Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon have, between them, taken in millions of Syrian refugees. People who fled, as you or I would flee, when remaining in the places they loved was no longer possible or safe.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has made a plea to Europe that you should read (and insist that whoever represents you also read)  at
The only ones who benefit from the lack of a common European response are the smugglers and traffickers who are making profit from people's desperation to reach safety. More effective international cooperation is required to crack down on smugglers, including those operating inside the EU, but in ways that allow for the victims to be protected. But none of these efforts will be effective without opening up more opportunities for people to come legally to Europe and find safety upon arrival. Thousands of refugee parents are risking the lives of their children on unsafe smuggling boats primarily because they have no other choice. 
The UN Refugees Agency wrote about words, and how they matter. In this case, the word migrants and refugees: they don't mean the same thing, and have very different meanings in terms of what a government's obligations are to them.
 One of the most fundamental principles laid down in international law is that refugees should not be expelled or returned to situations where their life and freedom would be under threat...
Politics has a way of intervening in such debates. Conflating refugees and migrants can have serious consequences for the lives and safety of refugees. Blurring the two terms takes attention away from the specific legal protections refugees require. It can undermine public support for refugees and the institution of asylum at a time when more refugees need such protection than ever before. We need to treat all human beings with respect and dignity. We need to ensure that the human rights of migrants are respected. At the same time, we also need to provide an appropriate legal response for refugees, because of their particular predicament.

It's worth making sure that people are using the right words. A lot of the time they don't realise there's a difference between the two things, or that refugees have real rights -- the rights you would want, if you were forced to leave home.

A lot of people have been asking me about ways that we as individuals can change things for the better for refugees: there's an excellent article in the Independent about practical things you can do to help or make a difference.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is feeding and housing and housing and helping literally millions of refugees around the world, always with the eventual goal of getting them safely home one day. Their funding comes from governments and private individuals all over the world. But this crisis has stretched them thin. You can help.

Donate to them at​ -- and please, share the donation link:
With your support, UNHCR will provide assistance such as:
  • Deliver rescue kits containing a thermal blanket, towel, water, high nutrient energy bar, dry clothes and shoes, to every survivor;
  • Set up reception centres where refugees can be registered and receive vital medical care;
  • Provide temporary emergency shelter to especially vulnerable refugees;
  • Help children travelling alone by providing specialist support and care.
As I said on this blog when I came back from visiting the camps:

I came away from Jordan ashamed to be part of a race that treats its members so very badly, and simultaneously proud to be part of the same human race as it does its best to help the people who are hurt, who need refuge, safety and dignity. We are all part of a huge family, the family of humanity, and we look after our family.  

(I'd love it you would spread this post around, and spread the links inside it. People who know that I'm involved in Refugee issues have been asking me about places to donate and what to do and what to read, so I put this together for them, and now, for you.​ was the donation link.)

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