I was going to talk this week about my book, about my new novel being published, but do you know what? I’m not going to do that. I can’t. You see, last week the UK voted to leave the European Union and it has – and I don’t lie when I say this – had a catastrophic effect on the country.
It’s a country I no longer recognise. People are being downright mean to others. Men and women are shouting at immigrants in the street, on buses, in schools at Polish people, Romanian people, anyone, basically, who doesn’t look ‘British,’ yelling to them, and I quote, ‘Get out of our country.’ Heads should be hung in shame. I am an immigrant. I am Irish. My family came to the UK when I was very young, my dad in search of work and a home, and I remember when we were little, kids running after us, repeating the words of their parents, shouting, ‘Oi, Paddies – get out.’ That was in the seventies. Nothing changes.
Now I have children, 12 and 14 years old, two beautiful, strong, intelligent girls whom I adore. Whom I would do anything for. So when I read today by chance the Save The Children stories on Syrian refugees my heart broke. Accounts from a boy of 14 being beaten. A boy of 6 being treated ‘like a dog’ and left to die with no food and water. A father having to flee with his family because he wouldn’t join the militia and so they said they would kill him.
And I read this, tears down my face and I made myself imagine my own children – of the same age – in the Syrian children’s shoes. My beautiful girls beaten and starved, enduring day after day of shelling.
And as I think of those Syrian refugees, so many of them the same age as my girls, I realise more and more that we can no longer keep everything we have to ourselves. We can’t think, hey, stuff them, this is our country, we’re too bloody full.
And so, I urge you to ask yourself: what if it was you?
What if, in the British town where you live, bombings were happening all around you? School bombed, no food or water. No Tesco’s or nights out? What if militia took your children and were using them as human shields? What if the children were being beaten in schools used as torture centres, where they are hung from their feet? What would you do, parents? These are your children, your grandchildren. What would you do?
I’ll tell you: you’d do everything in your god damn power to escape. You’d get your kids and the clothes on your back and you’d pay a man in a boat, whatever money he wanted, to get away and save your beautiful children. And you’d hope that after the awful, unimaginable journey where you have no food and might die, you’d be welcome with open arms and looked after and your plight would be understood. But wait! Because when you get there, not only are you subjected to humiliating questions, but people like Nigel Farage think there are too many immigrants, using Nazi-like posters to drive fear and hate, and so you are confused. You didn’t do anything wrong – you just wanted to protect your beautiful little family. But people, when they see you, instead of opening their arms out wide and saying, ‘Welcome,’ they snarl at you and tell you to, ‘Fuck off back to where you came from.’ But, of course, where you came from was a living hell. So which is better? What are you supposed to do?
Who will help you?
We are one world. We all live on the same planet. We are a global community. No one gave us the right to keep stuff all to ourselves. Think on this: when our kids were little, what did we always try to teach them? To share. So why should that sharing end as adults, as people and politicians? Why not do it now? SHARE.
To all those who voted to leave the EU, quoting that there are too many immigrants in the UK, I implore you to look at people with kindness. I ask you to take a moment and see in their eyes yourself, and imagine what it would be like to walk in their shoes. Take a moment, just a few seconds now, the bombings, the torture…
It’s hard to swallow, isn’t it? But here’s the rub: we are all human – different, yet all the same. And it’s only when we live with that thought in our hearts, with knowing that the place where we live now, this nice, relatively safe country that is the UK – well, it’s only by coincidence that we were born here, a stroke of luck. And we must use that luck wisely and kindly.
Please, please, let’s look after each other. And let’s share all we have.
Here’s the Save the Children collection of Syrian children refugee stories. Please, do, if you have a moment, read it. Thank you