A person is more than just the sum of the resources they need to survive.
Refugees are more than just burdens, they are people, although the way the government and the media have framed the issue would have you believe otherwise. Migrants generally are seen as “coming over here and taking our jobs/benefits/houses” – despite evidence suggesting immigration can actually create jobs – and headlines about the refugee crisis in Calais are more concerned about British holidaymakers than the refugees themselves; essentially, many of those of us lucky enough to have safe homes to go to are hearing these stories from Syria and around Europe and never bothering to think beyond “but how does this affect ~me~?” as if the devastation of those people actually affected doesn’t matter. They might be slightly less likely to refer to the refugees as “a swarm” or “cockroaches” in recent days, but the dehumanising attitude still remains.
An argument I’ve seen a lot recently goes along the lines of “I bet all these people signing petitions wouldn’t be happy housing refugees personally in their home”, again viewing them only as burdens on others. Firstly, this is a really unfair comparison considering that very few people have the same level of resources (financial or otherwise) that governments have. Secondly, refugees are not burdens, they are people, and many would be very much capable of looking after themselves if only they were allowed the chance to settle in a safe place and get back on their feet. On the “Syria is Calling” Facebook page set up in Iceland this week, Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir writes:
Refugees are human resources, experience and skills. Refugees are our future spouses, best friends, our next soul mate, the drummer in our children’s band, our next colleague, Miss Iceland 2022, the carpenter who finally fixes our bathroom, the chef in the cafeteria, the fireman, the hacker and the television host. People who we’ll never be able to say to: “Your life is worth less than mine.”
I would add that even if a refugee doesn’t become a carpenter or a chef or somebody’s spouse, they are human. They have likes and dislikes and hobbies and memories and experiences and thoughts and feelings. They have intrinsic value. A person is more than just the sum of the resources they need to survive.
Of course, people do need various resources to survive, as is pointed out relentlessly by the “but we’re not even looking after our own” crowd, which seems to mainly consist of people who call for benefit cuts and funding cuts right up until immigration hits the headlines, at which point they suddenly become outraged about poverty and homelessness because they can blame immigration rather than the real causes… But the thing is, we do have the resources. The UK government is spending millions of pounds on keeping out the refugees in Calais, and is considering military action in Syria; imagine how many refugees that money could feed and house, or how it could improve infrastructure to meet the demand. Austerity and government cuts are more than simply “sorry, we’re out of money”, they involve political and ideological choices, and refugees are not to blame.
There seems to have been a general shift in popular opinion this week, but that hasn’t been total; many people have simply shifted to “I feel sad for them now, but it’s for other countries to deal with, not us”. Somebody else’s problem – do we not realise that those other countries are saying exactly the same thing about us?
While we’re all squabbling over who should “deal with” a perceived burden, people are dying, drowning, suffocating, as a result of a crisis fuelled by racist, xenophobic anti-immigration narrative across Europe.
People, not burdens.