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A heart-warming response to the refugee crisis

Refugee shoes, Lesbos, Greece

Stefanie Eisenschenk under a Creative Commons Licence

My last blog, Requiem for the refugee, was written as I was sick in my stomach at the images of dead Syrian children washed ashore. Two days ago, I received an uplifting message from Florida friend Merlyn Brito, who comments regularly on my blogs. An immigrant to the US from India, she probably understands the anguish of the migrant who leaves her roots, friends, family and homeland.

She sent me an email from an Avaaz member that lifted my spirits. Finally, a ray of sunshine. A tiny flicker of hope for the desperate people pleading for sanctuary. Avaaz is a 41-million-person global campaign network that works to ensure that the views and values of the world’s people shape global decision-making.

I learnt that, on reading that their country had offered to take in a miserable 50 refugees, 10,000 Icelanders responded to a request on Facebook to show the refugees they had a heart. Yes. You read that right. Unbelievably, 10,000 people wrote in offering to open their doors and their homes to refugee families. It’s an unprecedented gesture from ordinary people to tell their government they have had enough of heartless bureaucracy and xenophobia. One woman writes:

‘I’m a single mother with a 6-year-old son... We can take a child in need. I’m a teacher and would teach the child to speak, read and write Icelandic and adjust to Icelandic society. We have clothes, a bed, toys and everything a child needs. I would of course pay for the airplane ticket.’

Avaaz urges people all over the world to stand in solidarity and will our political leaders to stop turning away desperate people. To stop allowing families to perish at sea. The TV coverage and the graphic details have roused the conscience of ordinary people. All over the world it is the politicians who start wars for convoluted reasons, who create policy which dictates that people remain cannon fodder – mere collateral damage, they tell us. Refugees are always expendable. They’re not people like us.

I know practically nothing about Iceland or its people. Yet now I feel the power of global solidarity with these kind folk who have thrown aside barriers of continents, countries, culture, language, race and religion, to embrace the universal values of kindness, humanity and love enshrined in all religions of the world. They have shown us the moral courage to practise what most religions and people merely preach. Unsung and unnoticed, India has absorbed a few million refugees from Burma, Tibet, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has gone up in everyone’s estimation by offering to take in 800,000 refugees. Perhaps her decision will shame other European Union leaders into more generosity.

Avaaz asks us to click to sign the Welcome Home pledge and share it everywhere. They will, they say, report to every single world leader how many of us are pledging in their countries.

Jonathan Wittenberg, a London rabbi says: ‘We don’t want to go down in history as the nation that closed its doors.’ The Guardian, astonishingly, quoted the Hebrew Bible. ‘It contains a remarkable verb: “to pretend you haven’t noticed”. We’ve all noticed. Now we mustn’t pretend. Instead, we should be true to [Britain’s] past, as an isle of refuge and a land of tolerance and welcome.’ Amen to that. May the Force enter the hearts and minds of the men and women who walk the corridors of power. Because if it doesn’t, the lives of thousands of drowning children, women and men may haunt us for the rest of our lives. Can we live with their blood on our hands?

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