This year’s Guardian charity appeal has already raised over a million pounds for six charities that provide emergency aid, food and shelter for refugees on their ‘unarmed road of flight’ from violence and persecution. Today, Zoe Williams’ report from Lesbos included this:

The money involved is so dramatic: a thousand dollars for a place in a dinghy, $2,500 in a wooden boat, over 350,000 refugees passing through this one island, this year alone. It runs to maybe half a billion dollars.

“How,” asks Philippa Kempson, “can the European Union claim to be worried about terrorism when what we have is a self-funding Isis war, the more people they drive out, the more money they make?”

Whether this money does go to Isis or just the Turkish mafia, the important thing is, the situation is so nefarious that anything seems possible. The tourist ferry costs €10. The European Union upholding this border, which stays porous but for an astronomical price, achieves nothing but the redistribution of money from the desperate to the criminal. Cheshirkov says: “Looking at Lebanon, it has a population of 4.5 million, every third person is a refugee. Europe is perhaps the richest continent in the world, with a population of 508 million. They should be able to manage this situation. It shouldn’t be a crisis. It shouldn’t be an emergency. This shouldn’t be at the expense of refugees who have fled their homes because of the most heinous crimes that we could probably not even imagine.

“The European Union has been built along the values of dignity, tolerance, brotherhood; our European values need to take precedence over everything else.”

Meanwhile, the New Statesman publishes this powerful piece written by Harry Leslie Smith who, as a young British soldier in 1945, witnessed Europe’s last great refugee crisis. Now aged 92, he took the Eurostar from St Pancras to Calais to meet the new generation of refugees in the refugee camp there known as the Jungle.

Harry Leslie Smith at the Calais refugee camp
Harry Leslie Smith at the Calais refugee camp

In 1945, aged 21 and advancing through Belgium and into Germany, he saw how the end of the war had created a huge refugee crisis, with more than 20 million people swept away from their homelands because of the fighting, the threat of reprisals from foreign armies or the prospect of starvation:

Seventy years on, I can recall with vivid clarity how the crisis flowed across Europe like a tidal surge of despair. I caught my first sight of the refugees from the back of an army truck: hundreds of civilians with cardboard suitcases, walking wearily beside the road. Some had fled the Soviet or German armies. Others were former slave labourers – desperately thin and wearing tattered prison uniforms and workers’ clogs – traipsing back towards the land of their birth or to a displaced persons’ camp. All were homeless, many were stateless, and each face I glimpsed seemed to carry an expression of terror.

Refugees from Eastern Europe cross a war-damaged railway bridge over the Elbe River. May 1945
Refugees from Eastern Europe cross a war-damaged railway bridge over the Elbe River. May 1945

Harry recalls how the British government, the army, civilians and the Red Cross provided food and clothing, while displaced persons’ camps were erected as an interim solution before people could return to their homelands or, if that was not possible, be resettled in the US, the Commonwealth, Britain, or other European countries.

Some had to wait for years to find a safe place to call home, but the camps provided care, sanitation, educational services and vocational training.

There is no doubt that these camps set up by Britain and the Allies alleviated the refugee crisis that my generation faced.

Comparing Europe’s response to the refugees’ plight then with what he sees in the camp at Calais, Harry concludes:

Back then, there was a desire among ordinary citizens and their leaders to alleviate the plight of refugees. Today, it is different. The common will to do good, or at least maintain a decent society for all, has vanished. Our politicians – and we, the ordinary people – are ignoring our moral, political and human responsibility to be our brothers’ keepers. In the end, the only thing that separates us from those who live in the Jungle is luck – and any gambler will tell you that this can change at the turn of a card.

The response to the Guardian’s appeal suggests that there remains a substantial will to help fellow humans who are suffering. It’s the political will that is lacking.

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