Have we already forgotten about the refugee crisis?

Joint Public Issues Team bannerOver on the Joint Public Issues website, Grace Pengelly asks Have we already forgotten about the refugee crisis?

The Joint Public Issues Team combines the expertise of the Baptist Union, the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church and the Church of Scotland.

“Can you remember life before the referendum? It seems a long time ago now, and sometimes, it feels difficult to think of exactly what we talked to each other about before June 23rd turned everything on its head.”

In her blog, Grace recalls that Refugee Week (and Refugee Festival Scotland) were running at the same time as the United Kingdom’s EU ‘Brexit’ Referendum.

“… an annual programme of arts, culture and educational events that celebrates the contributions of refugees to the UK and promotes better understanding of why people seek sanctuary here … The theme of Refugee Week 2016 was ‘welcome’, and its message was ‘different pasts, shared future’.”

She adds:

“If you didn’t realise this, don’t worry – the UK’s media didn’t realise it was happening either.”

The press drew attention to the ‘crisis’ by publishing “the image of the body of a toddler, Alan Kurdi, washed ashore on the Turkish coast … covered by every major UK newspaper, eliciting a change in public opinion which resulted in the government responding with some small but positive changes in policy”.

“But this outpouring of collective grief seemed a distant memory in the weeks leading up to the EU referendum. The same newspapers that just months before bore the image of a drowned child became dominated by divisive rhetoric, symbolised by the infamous ‘breaking point’ poster.”

Grace identifies three areas in which the rapidly changing British political landscape seems to have caused the public to forget about the suffering of millions of people throughout the world.

Joint Public Issues Team Grace Pengelly blog snippetCollective memory loss isn’t new in society. Within days of Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem “those who had laid down palms and cloaks in front of the donkey Jesus rode in upon were part of the crowd calling for this same man to be crucified”.

  • These narratives have caused us to forget the long-term reality of this crisis, which is not new, but has been unfolding for years. Conflict and unrest and poverty in Iraq, Libya, Egypt and parts of Sub Saharan Africa have contributed to the movement of millions of people. The Syrian civil war has now been going on for five years.
  • We have forgotten that people are still dying making unsafe journeys across the Mediterranean. Almost 3,000 people have died in the first six months of 2016 alone.
  • We have forgotten about the countries which have responded most generously to the situation. In Lebanon, a country of just 4.5 million people has registered more than 1.2 million Syrians since the beginning of the conflict.

The blog finishes:

“Perhaps now more than ever, we as Christians have an ethical duty not just to remember but to act, by reminding our friends, colleagues and the media about the ongoing suffering of millions of displaced people around the world, and finding out the ways in which we can support those who still face dangerous journeys today.”