One of the hardest things about my job is explaining to people why the world is turning their back on them. Why is it that people dislike them so much without having even met them? “It is not personal” I say “ I am sorry that you have been caught in the politics”. Not surprisingly, nothing I say makes them feel better. All they know is that one day a member of their family was murdered before their very eyes, or their house got bombed, or their neighbours were killed, or they were sold for marriage and subject to violence and abuse, or they were beaten up and incarcerated for having different beliefs, or they could just not continue living in the fear of a coming death and a diminishing future. Yes, these are the kinds of things that force them to leave their home, and try to seek protection in other places. But instead of feeling welcomed and comforted by those of us in better circumstances, they are being punished. Punished for having hope, for wanting a better future, an education for their children, for not being able to continue living in fear.
Caught between war and the politics of fear, they feel without value. The logic of deterrence is simple: we will make your life so much more miserable that you will wish you never left. Some logic, huh? And it works. They are not treated as people, but as burdens on society, thanks to misinformation and toxic political narratives that objectify human beings whose humanity has been reduced to an adjective: refugee or asylum-seeker. The adjective, that politicians want us to associate with hate and mistrust, creeps into their identity until they stop seeing themselves. Thousands, millions are trapped in a futureless vacuum, unable to dream or escape. Youth commit suicide, elderly live out their last days removed from their families and loved ones in a foreign land that rejects them, disease takes hold of their minds and bodies.
For those of us witnesses to the dehumanisation of millions of people, it is also painful. We like to think that we are making a difference, and we probably are, but the sense of impotence and feeling of frustration begin to make their way to our hearts. Sometimes it is difficult to get up in the mornings. Most nights it is difficult to sleep. These people have names and faces, Murtaza, Nahid, Qasem, Nazanin, Shafie, Abdi Fatah, Marwan, Rodan, Maryam, Nada, Zahra, Sharifah, Shomaila. If only some of them got angry at me for this gross injustice, it would help to see some anger, I would understand their anger. Instead I hear their hearts break a little more, I watch the pain in their eyes, “It’s ok” they tell me when I say they will probably never be resettled and the miserable life they are leading has no end “I understand. It’s not your fault”.
No. It is not my fault. Neither is it theirs. And still, we are caught up in this senseless cycle of pain and darkness, of injustice and unjustified hate for a socially constructed and politically charged ‘problem’ that remains largely unknown, foreign and distant only because we let it so. “It is not my problem” I hear you say “why should I worry about others when I have my own problems to worry about?”
Because when you fail to realise that your indifference contributes to the spreading of darkness, that your inaction validates injustice and hatred, you are setting the conditions for the future your children and my children will inherit. A future devoid of love and kindness, and filled instead with ignorance and hatred. You become a threat to all of our futures.
Because whether you like it or not, our lives are linked, and our futures are connected. We live in a globalised world in which your decisions today can have an immense impact on people you may never meet, but who are not different from you or me. Because even if you want to think about it selfishly, you want to contribute to a world where your own future generations can live in safety and dignity. Your apathy is not isolated from the development of societal values.
I invite you to see what I see, to share my joy and my frustration. And I wish you courage, for you will need it.
Picture credit: 3dman_eu /Pixabay