Sometimes an incident occurs that triggers so much public outcry and revulsion that it forces change. The change may simply be in attitude, but often it is in law. One thinks, for example, of the Dunblane Massacre in Scotland in 1996 and the radical overhaul of gun laws which followed.
Paradoxically, an incident which should court such outrage often does not and in fact prompts no action at all. Given that the ‘incident’ is generally one that should attract repugnance, this is presumably something of which we should, as a civilised society, feel ashamed.
Shortly before Christmas in 2012 a mass shooting took place at an elementary school in Connecticut, North America. 28 people were murdered including 20 children aged between 6 and 7. The abhorrence worldwide was palpable but, to the astonishment of many, even that incident did not prompt the adoption of gun control laws in the USA.
Indeed many people feel that the argument in favour of considerably tighter laws in relation to the ‘right to bear arms’ was lost forever at that moment. If the horror of losing 20 young people under the age of 8 is insufficient to move for radical change, then nothing will. That is not to say that there are not Americans who would very much appreciate tighter control with some even in favour of a total ban (much like the UK following Dunblane) but they appear to be in the minority.
The analogous moment for us in the UK (and, for that matter much of Europe it would appear) in respect of the plight of migrants and asylum seekers, was when little 3 year old Syrian Alan Kurdi drowned attempting to reach Europe back in 2015. The pictures, perhaps inappropriately published (and which I have elected not to include here), of his lifeless little body on the beach at Bodrum, Turkey should surely have filled us all with heart-wrenching grief. In many ways it did, globally. The very distressing images of him became front page news across the world, were turned into paintings and became symbolic of the dire situation that many migrants face.
However, once the grief abated, nothing was done. Indeed, if anything, the varying migration policies emanating from the EU and its’ member states became harsher. Fast forward to only a couple of weeks ago and a 28 year-old Sudanese man, drowned when he attempted to cross the English Channel in a dinghy, using a shovel as an oar. In an almost identical timeframe, a more fortunate migrant made it to the Kent shores…..and was promptly assaulted.
The duality of these scenarios strikes right at the heart of our attitude and mindset towards migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. One minute a paroxysm of uncontrolled emotion, the next a total indifference or even behaviour somewhat more malevolent that leads to a criminal attack. Further, what then usually follows is a political drubbing. We portray ourselves outwardly as a kind, caring, even genteel nation who, when touched by the nightmarish existence of others is always there to lend a hand but, in reality, we do little more than pay lip-service by offering a few scant words of sympathy.
There is something very undignified about us watching the pitiful attempts of so many to escape the despotic and tyrannical regimes of their birth , only then to besmirch them so willingly if they actually manage to negotiate the 21 miles across the Channel.
Nobody is suggesting that borders be completely uncontrolled, but there does appear to be something extremely latent and worrying in the UK. The undercurrent of utter dislike for any ‘migrant’ to try and gain access to a better life. Where is our humanity and why has it disappeared..?? Are we a country that has overtones of racism and it is this that lies at the root of the problem..? Is it our ‘elephant in our room’ that we simply do not wish to face..?
The Government will pay homage to the victims by telling us it is a tragedy and should no longer be ‘allowed’ to happen. Then promptly tells us how much tighter the controls need to be. Allowing migrants into one’s country is not a game of cherry-picking. One cannot simply vet from a hand-picked selection of wealthy, ‘preferred’ races and classes and reject the rest like unsuccessful job applicants.
As if that attitude isn’t calamitous enough, surely the greatest tragedy is a toss-up between the utter desperation by migrants to survive, usually against incredibly poor odds and the sheer indifference to human life which many people, in 2020 society, now appear to have.