Barbara Winton, refugee rights campaigner and daughter of Sir Nicholas Winton writes:
The world became a more frightening place in March. We were all quite suddenly faced with an invisible threat that could cause suffering or even kill us and our loved ones. The message we were given by the government was to stay home, save lives. This message meant that for us, the British public, home became a sanctuary, our safe place, where at least we could feel calm even while new pressures and worries piled around us.
This new recognition of what home means to us, made me reflect on the plight of refugees. To be in a situation where you have to face the terrifying realisation that home is no longer a safe haven. Where leaving your home for places unknown and often unwelcoming is the better option. Where staying at home could mean death for you and your loved ones. To perhaps come to recognise that escape is not possible for your whole family, but maybe a faint hope for your children. To decide that the risk of them remaining is greater than that of sending them off to an unknown fate and uncertain future. The heart-wrenching decision of choosing to separate from one you love most in the world.
This of course was the decision of thousands of families who sent their children to Britain on the Kindertransport in 1939, when the fear of their fate at the hands of the Nazis became palpable. Those who sensed that remaining as a family, together, united in whatever might come, was possibly condemning their child to no future at all. For many, it was impossible to make that decision, but for those who did, their children found sanctuary and kind people to shelter them. Whatever the trauma of separation they experienced; they at least had a future and could build lives and families that demonstrated the value of their parents’ sacrifice.
Today’s refugees have fled their homes to search for sanctuary and security and some have made their way into Europe, in the hope of finding a safe haven, a new home. Many unaccompanied children are living in intolerable conditions in cramped, unhygienic camps in Greece or living rough in France and throughout Western Europe. All their parents wanted for them was safety and a chance of a future.
For the past 3 months we have been sheltering in our homes, keeping ourselves and our families safe. The problems that we have faced have kept us focused on finding ways to keep positive or helping those around us. It’s a tough time therefore to find the emotional energy to think about those who have no home, who have thrown themselves on the mercy of others but are not finding the compassion they so desperately hoped was out there. The conditions for refugees in mainland Europe is barely even mentioned in the news at present.
My feeling is that the best way to get a sense of our place in today’s situation is to recognise the spectrum of experiences and where our own fits in that. And if we recognise there are those whose suffering is greater, then one thing we can contribute is to offer support to them. In my view, refugees inhabit that space. To be without a home at a time like this is unimaginable. To have that fear and uncertainty, without a place of respite or protection.
While the crisis has enveloped us, charities supporting refugees in Europe and the UK have been continuing to do what they can. They face greater challenges than ever to continue the provision of aid they have been offering. Supporting those charities, especially at this moment, would be enormously constructive and valuable. What better way to acknowledge the refuge that our homes have been for us through this time, than to offer a helping hand to refugees who have the same need as us for a sense of security and safety and for whom a home is a distant dream.