Why are some British people too obsessed with class to care about refugees?

The desperate trips taken by refugees doesn't seem to be enough for some of us

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The Independent Online

When I wrote about the “refugee crisis we dare not even name” last week, contrasting our Government’s lack of sympathy with the Dutch who risked death to shelter Anne Frank during the Second World War, there had been no photo of Aylan al-Kurdi washed up on the Turkish beach, no mass exodus from Budapest railway station. We were still in denial: “swarm” territory.

That column was the most shared and commented on I’ve ever written.  As one might expect of i and independent.co.uk readers, there was some sympathy for the refugees.

That said, watching Germans greeting Syrian refugees in Munich this weekend with sweets, water, teddy bears and applause, I puzzled again over the relatively unsympathetic British response. It was bemusing to be tagged “a leftie” just for expressing sympathy. Then it dawned on me: in the mix with racism (dark skins) and religious prejudice (Muslims) is a good, old-fashioned British obsession: class.

One reason why some have chosen to view what are obviously refugees as “merely” economic migrants is that many don’t conform to our stereotype of refugees.

Regardless of the images of Homs, Aleppo or Kobane today – think post-blitz London, but worse – and despite the survivor stories, it appears being rescued from the sea or a dangerous march along a motorway aren’t enough for some to accept their “desperate” status.

This interpretation goes: they’re not that desperate – because they are not in rags or obviously famished. But isn’t that the point? The destruction of Syrian (or Iraqi) cities and Isis terror are indiscriminate. Muslims, Christians and Kurds are all dying or fleeing. Doctors and teachers have their homes destroyed – just as market traders and kitchen staff do.

It took one teenage Syrian boy among the many interviewed this past week to sum it up: “What do we want? To stop the war” And then, he continued, Syrians would not be fleeing Syria, their home. It’s one thing to stop calling these people migrants, but another to actually start treating them as refugees.

 

 

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