A week when the 'migrant hordes' became human beings

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The Independent Culture

Radio is about stories – some made up, some true – and in the past week it was the real-life stories that mattered most, specifically those of the displaced and dispossessed.

As public opinion regarding refugees has shifted, as the "migrant hordes" have become human beings, their stories have got louder and more urgent. During the past week there have been tales of Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis, of people smugglers and smuggled peoples, of holidaymakers and holiday workers, each of them caught in their own way in a human catastrophe. There has been joy but more often there has been sadness and devastation and trauma. For those listening, there has been hopelessness, anger and shame. Which is exactly why these stories should be heard.

On Radio 4's Today, the reporter Matthew Price was in Hungary where he spoke at length to Hamza, an English teacher who had fled her home in Homs with her engineer husband and three children. The interview made for shattering listening. She and her family had spent 18 months in Damascus before moving to Lebanon and then on to Turkey, where they couldn't find work and where Hamza noted that people "hate Syrians". She and her family had travelled from Turkey to Greece by rubber dinghy where the water was up to their necks, where they lost their possessions and had to hold the younger children aloft to stop them drowning. Later they were sprayed with tear gas on the Serbian-Hungarian border where, she said, "we were trying to hold hands and run".

Hamza wept as she recalled pushing her children forwards through razor wire, to ensure they crossed the border even if she didn't make it. She recalled the devastation and fear back in Homs that made such a perilous journey seem like the only way. And she vented her fury on the governments that "put their hands in everything, even in the war, and now they stop us from coming to their countries. So where do we go?"

BBC5 Live's Rachel Burden reported from Bodrum in Turkey for the 5 Live Breakfast Show, home to some excellent journalism in the past week. It is believed 130,000 Syrians have passed through Bodrum on their way to taking tiny boats to the Greek island of Kos. Burden spoke to a Syrian woman who lost two children to a bomb in Aleppo, and who was travelling with a toddler and a five-day-old baby, as well as a Turkish restaurant owner who, though sympathetic to the Syrians, feared for his livelihood. There were also reports from train stations in Munich and Vienna, where the mood among volunteers dispensing food, clothing and water was unexpectedly joyful. One woman said she was doing it simply as "an act of humanity".

Back in June, the presenter and musician Scroobius Pip interviewed a young Congolese woman on his Distraction Pieces podcast in a Refugee Week Special. It's worth revisiting, not only because Ramelle was a terrifically articulate young woman with an epic story to tell, but also to underline the fact refugees are not an amorphous group but a series of individuals that have existences as multilayered and complex and interesting as our own. "One night my whole life changed and it's never been the same again," she said. It was a reminder good fortune is fragile, and to offer shelter to those whose lives have been turned upside down is really the least we can do.

Twitter: @FionaSturges