In 2014 the global refugee population stood at 14.4 million people (1). To put this into perspective, Scotland has a population of 5.4 million people (2). Calais hosts an estimated 3,000 refugees with this figure rising daily, each migrant having left their home and their community in search of a better life.
These numbers are shocking not just because of the global crisis they represent but also because of how unfathomably large the figure is. It is the sheer scale of the refugee crisis which makes it hard to visualise. Alan Bennet summarised this idea when he wrote ‘when people are dying like flies that is what they are dying like’ (3). Essentially, we lose the ability to understand and acknowledge that 14.4 million is not just a number. It represents real humans: old people, men, women, children. People who have unique passions and skills, men who have specific music tastes, women who have favourite TV programmes and children who giggle when they are tickled. The scale of the problem makes it hard to focus on the humanity of the problem.
Last summer I had the opportunity to spend some time at the refugee camps in Calais providing first aid and medical care to the vulnerable migrants there, an opportunity I received thanks to an organisation called FAST. During my time in the camps I did not do anything remotely exceptional: I cleaned blistered feet, I patched up some open wounds, I gave out pain relief, but something exceptional happened to me. The people in the camps spoke to me, spent time with me and confided in me about their lives. I met lawyers, master’s students, nurses and so many others who had fled their home in search of safety and refuge. ‘The refugee’ is not a distant alien or a faceless shadow, each migrant is an individual who lives and faces each new day with their own fears, dreams and ambitions. Like you. Like me.
When the problem seems unmanageably large and complex there is the temptation for us to switch off. How could I do anything even remotely helpful? How can such huge injustices be tackled? How can I have any impact in a crisis that even world leaders seem at a loss with? I believe that the answer lies in remembering that it is 14.4 million unique and wonderful individual humans that make up that unfathomable figure, each one precious and deserving of a life free from war.
The population of England is 56 million (2). If each of us in this country did one single action in order to positively impact the refugee crisis then change would occur. If each individual that makes up the 56 million decided to take action in order to support the individuals that make up the 14.4 million refugees, then the impact would be far and wide. Actions are simple as volunteering with one of the organisations that support refugees in Calais, supporting Amnesty financially or with volunteering, befriending schemes that support refugees in London to settle into their new lives. By millions of individuals committing to one small action, the lives of millions can change. Yes, the problem is big, but that does not mean that our steps have be too. We can cause change through small positive actions.
(1) ‘The truth about refugees’. April 2019. Accessed 18/11/2019. Available at: https://www.amnesty.org.uk/truth-about-refugees.
(2) Population estimates. Office for national statistics. Accessed 18/11/2019. Available at https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/populationestimates.
(3) Alan Beckett. ‘The History Boys’. Act 2.