Compassion for Refugees

Drowned refugee boy
Drowned refugee boy shocks the world

It’s all about compassion. As I write this, the news media is full of information about the “refugee crisis” or “migrant crisis”. Hot spots are Calais in France, Southern Italy and Libya, Budapest in Hungary, and the island of Cos in Greece and Turkey. Who cannot be moved by the photograph of a young boy’s body, washed up on the beach. Politicians can rationalise and talk about the underlying causes but I sense a change in ordinary people’s attitudes as they feel sympathy, empathy and compassion towards people they see as fellow human beings.

Migrants, Refugees or just people

What do we call those who are fleeing war, violence, persecution (and extreme poverty which kills just as effectively). They are called  migrants, refugees, asylum seekers or “economic migrants”, but they are simply people fleeing from physical or economic violence and seeking a better life for their families. The trouble is the word “migrant” has connotations which makes the word insulting, and degrading. I would prefer to use the term “refugee” – one fleeing violence and seeking a new life in another country – but better still is to refer to them as people, just like you and me.

Underlying Causes

The prime minister of the U.K. says that we must solve the underlying causes – war or persecution. This is all very well but this needs  a ten, twenty, hundred or thousand-year programme and we in the U.K. are partly responsible for some of these problems anyway (in Iraq and Libya). We pour resources into refugee camps and keep the problem out of the way in some remote location. But compassion means recognising that people want a life for their families and not just survival in a camp. It means welcoming them in to our country where they may find work and fulfilment and where they may flourish.

World War Three – 201? to 20??

I maybe sticking my neck out here but historians may look back upon this period as the start of world war three. A war not based on patriotism to one’s country but a war based on extreme ideas, on race and on religion. A war where it is not easy to recognise one’s adversaries, not country against country, and not army against  army. The weapons used are not strategic, but guns, home-made bombs, fear and violence. A war where the victims are almost entirely civilians – men, women and children. Maybe, “We haven’t seen anything yet“.

Global Village

We live in a global village. News, pictures and ideas flash round the world at the speed of light. And yet we live in a world of gross inequality between the rich and poor living in the same country. Richer countries are fighting to maintain their wealth, privileges and standards in a world which is being made very aware of the privileges that they don’t share. Is it any wonder that people, just like you and me, want a better life. Who are we to deny them the opportunities?

A call to British politicians

  • Wake up and realise that most people are compassionate and do not share a “Little Englander” view. You may have had a shock that so many do not consider themselves European citizens, but most of us cherish our inheritance as human beings and see other people in the same light – whether they come from Syria, Eritrea or other impoverished parts of the world.
  • Welcome refugees from war-torn regions such as Syria, by directly  inviting families from the refugee camps by the tens of thousands (or more) to share in our prosperity. (This will short-circuit the criminal people smugglers who exploit the misery of people.
  • Beware of quotas. We are not talking about some negotiating with other countries about numbers. Compassion has no limits. (As I write this David Cameron has announced that the U.K. is to accept “thousands” of Syrians from refugee camps.)
  • Be an example to the world. There are 4 million refugees in countries surround Syria and millions more displaced within Syria. Outdo Germany and Sweden in generosity and compassion and welcome refugees by the tens or even hundreds of thousands.
  • Do not pander to the racist minority who by careful phrasing, nether the less consider others as sub-human.
  • Encourage a culture of compassion by word and by example.
  • Let us be proud of our “Britishness” by an amazing national response to this situation as we welcome refugees into our midst.


Author: George Dowdell

I was the founder of Karuna Action (formerly Kingscare) and was the director for 24 years. I have now handed control over to younger people but continue as an advisor and trustee. My passion is to see extreme poverty eliminated and to see justice for the powerless.

3 thoughts on “Compassion for Refugees”

  1. There is no good answer. Whatever we do will be dangerous.
    We are partly to blame for the situation, our middle east policies after WW1 laid the ground for groups like IS. Our invasion of Iraq was just the latest in a string of stupid acts. That’s not to lessen any way the guilt of IS for their enslaving, murdering and raping of the innocent.
    The migrants are not a homogenous group. They include Christians and Yazidis fleeing death from IS, desparate people fleeing poverty which is killing them, and they include some (mainly young men I suspect) who are genuinely chancing it by claiming to be refugees when they are not. But how do you separate them?
    Stick them in camps? A friend was in Yarls Wood, and she was terrified “there are very bad men there” she said. How do you protect the innocent?
    The policy of trying to stop boat people, but rescuing them when their boats sink is a failure. It means the trafficers make huge profits, large numbers of people die, and we don’t really keep people out.
    Some of the migrants share the same vicious beliefs as IS, we don’t want them, but how do you detect them?
    And we currently have a shortage of houses. We are a situation where ghettos have formed which threaten integration, and to accept newcomers will be a strain and a risk for our society.
    But the risk of doing nothing is to watch people die.
    It would be nice if we could go into these failed states and restore order, but our colonial past does not give us a good starting point, and previous attempts have hardly been successes.
    We need to accept migrants, but we also need to work harder to integrate them, we need to find better ways of restoring good government in the source countries, and to bring peace and prosperity to the third world.
    And I don’t see our current polititians doing that – and I don’t just mean the Tories.


  2. Let’s not forget that the majority of Christians in Syria have been refused entry to the refugee camps and are in hiding in very perilous and precarious situations. Accepting refugees from the camps will do nothing to help them. Our government should be making a priority of finding a way to bring these people to safety.


  3. Good post. We must all step up to help this humanitarian crisis, so as not too overburden one country. I agree with you on the time to solve the causes, but right now sending this folks back is akin to an execution.

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