Victims of war must be helped

Spirit Quest

We must help victims of war

Image: Detail of photo of the late Aylan Kurdi, via CNN.
By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective

Like so many I have been moved by the picture of the little boy in his red T shirt and blue pants, washed ashore on a Mediterranean beach. Every now and then a picture reaches the public that stirs people to acts of compassion. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. There are today thousands of pictures that beg us to action. The little boy is a refugee from the carnage in Syria. He and his parents had entrusted themselves to a rickety boat that foundered on the rocks of the Turkey coastline.

It is scenes such as this that hit us with a wallop and turn our maladies to the side if for only a brief time.

I was reminded that I was once a refugee child. I shall not forget huddling with my mother by the window of a refugee train that was taking us from Prague to the Baltic in November 1938.

It was dark but I did see a swastika outlined in light bulbs on a large building. Indeed I later learned that our rail line crossed enemy territory. I was worried but fell asleep in my mother’s arms.  When I awoke many hours later it was daylight and our train with its load of refugees had crossed the Polish border and was heading across the Polish steppe north towards the Baltic sea and a freighter flying the Union Jack. It would take us to Britain that had both betrayed us via its prime minister Neville Chamberlain but whose people had also raised thousands of pounds to save us. I will always recall the arms of the Tower Bridge raised to receive us on that drizzly November evening.

Twenty years later in Canada I served as director for World Refugee Year for the United Church of Canada that along with other churches and organizations endeavoured to empty those wretched displaced person camps that dotted  Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. It was a monumental task. I recall that we had discovered a picture of a beautiful little Palestinian girl that became our poster picture and appeared on all our literature and made significant impact on our money raising and sponsorship efforts.

Another 20 years later I was the minister of a congregation in Toronto that undertook the tremendous task of sponsoring a family of Vietnamese boat people. Twelve of them had come from Laos, had swum or been carried across the Mekong river to a Thai refugee camp from where they found sponsorships through the World Council of Churches. Our congregation rented a house and supplied it with furniture and food. Such are the possibilities when people are motivated to reach out and help.

News reports indicate the refugee crisis of our time is rising by leaps and bounds as people are losing their homes, security and freedom.

In his new book  Illegal,  Lawrence Hill author of that “very best” selling  book  The Book Of Negroes makes a condemnation of the way refugees are treated. I haven’t yet read it, only its reviews, but it is high on top of my fall reading list. Hill points to the plight of millions of Syrians.

Hill says that “If we were coming from France or England we would make room for them in weeks. “We are a rich nation — we have room  for lots more refugees than we take. Our country was built on immigrant labour. We have this idea that immigrants — rich, highly educated, able to contribute to our economy, are best for our country. So we have  narrowed the idea of what we think is an ideal immigrant. But that’s absurd! The country was built with the help of working-class immigrants more than white collar immigrants.”

Canada is not nearly as generous as it used to be. Our government has an economic eye. The projected figures for Syrian refugees is falling far short of being realized.

The little boy with the red shirt and blue pants his lifeless body lying on the beach is a powerful reminder that we live in a turbulent world. But leaf on in those magazines and on our TV screens and discover the tremendous resources at our disposal to aid those who have lost home and family.

What is needed is the will to help.

My refugee experience was light in comparison to those thousands crowding the Budapest railway station or trying to brave the Chunnel to Britain. Thank God for the people of Austria and Germany who opened wide their doors, undoubtedly its the memory of personal experience that has motivated them.

Neither can we Canadians close our eyes to human tragedy exemplarized by that little boy, his brothers and sister and parents and many others on their way from tragedy to freedom and not quite making it. Can we not help without ruining our economy?

Image: Detail of photo of Czechoslovak refugees from Sudentenland in 1938, via Wikipedia.
Detail of photo of Czech refugees from the Sudetenland in 1938. Via Wikipedia.