Nine years ago, I left my family, my friends and my work in India. There were teary goodbyes, farewell gifts, and large suitcases full of poignant, if useless, reminders of ‘home’. There was nervous excitement, a touch of melancholy, and the overwhelming promise of a new life ahead. A different life, one where I’d need to adapt, where I’d absorb new cultures, evolve a new identity and reinvent the ‘me’ I’d been living for years.
A few weeks ago, Aylan’s family left their home, their friends and their lives in Syria. There may have been teary goodbyes, but I doubt anyone was thinking of gifts. If they did have the room to bring things along, they would most likely have been utilitarian, practical things; things likely to improve their chances of survival away from the destroyed homes they were only too eager to leave. I can only imagine their nervousness, a touch of desperation, and the overpowering hope that life lay ahead. Life. Not ‘a better life’, or ‘a new life’. Just life, as opposed to the constant threat of death they’d been living with for years.
About ten days ago, probably around the same time as Aylan’s family was waiting for the boat that was meant to carry them to their new chance at life, I was waiting too. While they waited, with countless others, on a beach, I waited in the reception room of a beautifully appointed stately old home. While they probably handed over large sums of money to be squeezed up against hundreds of their compatriots in a rickety boat, I simply handed over a piece of paper that I had received in the post, was greeted with effusive smiles and invited to partake of refreshments while I waited, along with people of six other nationalities, to be greeted by officials from my local council.
I remember swallowing a lump in my throat as, with a few simple words, I renounced my citizenship to one country and received the rights to another, to the sound of applause. And now I am haunted by the thought of them, gasping with fear each time their boat was hit by a swelling wave. Each time they saw an official looking boat patrolling the waters.
My journey ended, in one sense, as a little red booklet arrived by messenger. Of course, this is the start of a lifetime of journeys, as the proud bearer of ‘one of the world’s most powerful passports’.
And Aylan’s journey? Well, we don’t need to see that photo again to remind us that he didn’t make it. Not him. Not his brother. Not their mother. Not the hundreds of others who brave the same perilous route to escape their realities in search of life, in a bid to stay alive.
Me, I’m a migrant. A well-integrated, settled one, fortunate to have a home and friends and rights in more than one country, including the right to espouse what one MP has called a ‘pathetic, trendy left-wing view‘ of compassion towards my fellow human beings. Armed with my new passport I can travel at will, including back to a welcoming home country.
Families like those of Aylan? They are refugees. People whose situation in one country was so perilous that their lives literally depended on making it across a border. Their reality is that it is too dangerous for them to return home. Denying them asylum can mean the difference between life and death.
There’s a difference. And it matters.
For now, all I can do is show my support, show that I’m one of those who believe refugees should feel welcome in the UK, and use my newly strengthened voice as a citizen to call on my MP to ‘End the Calais Crisis’.
If you live in the UK too, please will you sign? Several lives do depend on it.