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Dublin: 7 °C Friday 22 November, 2019
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'Yes, I mourn for Paris. But, I do so while weeping for the invisible victims in our global world'

‘When we see the bloodshed in Paris, we should open our borders to refugees, not close them’, writes Mairead Healy.

Mairead Healy

WE ARE ALL Parisian this week — with hashtags, Facebook profiles and famous landmarks draped in the blue, white, and red of the French flag.

This in tandem with endless commentary from politicians and the media all keen to get their sympathy in, for those most innocent and deserving of victims. Yes, I mourn for Paris. But I do so while weeping for the invisible victims in our global world. You see, I also mourn for those killed mere hours before Paris, in Beirut.

I mourn the hundreds of thousands displaced and killed in Syria, those torture victims in Darfur or in Iraq and the countless others whom humanity has forgotten because violence just happens there.

Mideast Lebanon Iraq Islamic State Double Standard Woman hold hand of child wounded in suicide bombings in southern Beirut. Source: AP/Press Association Images

If many on the left have tried to blame terror attacks on Western foreign policy, many on the right have tried to use recent events in Paris to ramp up rhetoric against migrants and refugees. Had France (and Europe) maintained tighter border controls, the attacks could have been avoided. There will be deafening calls to close the western world to refugees. Already in the midst of a refugee crisis, the Member States may give in to anger and fear and shut their doors for good. But we should do just the opposite. When we see attacks like the bloodshed in Paris, we should open our borders to refugees, not close them.

‘These horrors are what refugees are fleeing from’

Let us hope refugees are not punished for the actions of others. For racism born of fear will only allow our governments to introduce fast and undemocratic security measures that in the short term feel like a protective solution to keep terrorists out, but in reality just prevents genuine refugees from receiving the protection they need. Let us be clear, border checks will not deter terrorists’ intent on succeeding with their deadly missions.

The refugees who have arrived in Europe are trying to escape these extremists and their repressive regimes. The failure of leadership from the EU to address the issue has created major political conflicts between the Member States, fuelled public hostility towards migrants and refugees, and given ammunition to far right nationalists.

It is not right to blame the victims of violence for the existence of violence. The refugees are victims of extreme ideologies, and they are trying to get to a safer place. Terrorist attacks in Europe should make us more sympathetic to refugees fleeing Syria, as these horrors are a daily reality of the bloody wars they are fleeing from.

Greece Migrants An exhausted boy is helped by his mother at a beach, after their arrival on a dinghy from the Turkish coast on the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos. Source: AP/Press Association Images

I saw first-hand this reality. Having recently returned from volunteering as part of an aid convoy in one such camp- I saw weary men, women and unaccompanied minors with nothing but the clothes on their backs, fleeing from terror not running towards it.

The Calais ‘jungle’ where I was based, is divided by country as nationals huddle around the familiarity of their fellow countrymen, with every one of the worlds warzones represented. We walked through little ‘Iraq’, ‘Afghanistan’, ‘Darfur’ ‘Syria’ and ‘Sudan,’ mainly living peacefully alongside each other. This represented a deeper significance for me – it was abundantly clear that these people, fleeing war and persecution, want anything but conflict.

‘They can’t go back, but they can’t go forward’

I sat for ages in the Syrian camp. Of all the nations, they were the one that I felt most at home with- the incessant chatter, tea drinking and sense of fun of the men, drew me to their circle immediately and I felt a strong bond with them. When I suggested I had overstayed my welcome, they told me “You are our guest”, as we sat for more hours on crates outside their tents on the muddy camp terrain sharing stories.

One medical doctor amongst them, told me that he can survive living in the freezing cold, without adequate food, shelter or access to clean showers or toilets, but he just permanently feels the pain of his lost family the most unbearable. He was forced to flee because he refused to join ISIS and would have been killed by them for this refusal. They can’t go back, but they can’t go forward, they are stuck in limbo, with no worldly possessions but just a child-like hope that it will all turn out ok, that humanity will somehow come to their rescue.

Greece Migrants A Syrian man kisses his daughter shortly after disembarking from a dinghy at a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean sea from the Turkish coast Source: AP/Press Association Images

So many others had similar tales, of lost lives, hopes and unimaginable heartache. Their sad eyes gave them away, despite their persistent attempts to be cheerful and upbeat for us. I thought about their lives existing in the camp- the inhumane conditions they were surviving in.

Just imagine living in your basic two man festival tent-only for months on end in the middle of a bitterly cold winter, with no heating, no sanitation on camp, one meal a day if they were lucky, and a daily scrum to get a coveted six minute shower token. Animals are treated better than this, and all of this happening as Europe turns a blind eye to their suffering as it mourns the ‘rightful’ victims in Paris.

Paris Terror Attack Source: Philip Toscano

So what will happen next? What will be Europe’s response? Responding to suicidal fanatics’ violence with even more violence is unlikely to solve anything and will instead lead to an escalation. Equally, protecting the borders of a country is nearly impossible as in the 21st century, nothing can be contained geographically. Directly targeting refugees by closing the gates of Europe only seeks to punish the innocent and the defenceless even more than they already have been. Their already dead eyes will only become even sadder.

The solution to both threats of terrorism and unending flows of refugees is a more equitable global distribution of humanity, dignity and decency, not barbed-wire fences and surveillance.

Let us remember that the majority of these refugees are heroes. Their stories show more determination, strength and resilience than anything I have ever heard. So deep and moving were their stories of unimaginable trauma, that I felt unable to verbalise them when I came back from my trip- until now. But we must talk about the unspeakable which has happened to them as these are stories also of incredible courage- and it is our duty to give them a voice. For they are an inspiration to us all.

Mairead Healy is a campaigner and is the CEO of Future Voices Ireland. She was a member of a recent Irish aid convoy to Calais with Ireland Refugee Solidarity and plans to return again in the coming weeks.

Read: ‘To kill so many people, so deliberately, in such a short time shows determination and training’>

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Mairead Healy

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