Compassion blinds us to real refugee story

The compassion of the crowd can make you feel heartless for reserving comment until a reasonable question has been answered.

When we began getting pictures of Syrians walking into Europe last week and our media became awash with the story, my heart was stuck on one question: why is this happening now?

The Syrian civil war has been raging for four years. The atrocities of Isis are reason enough for anyone to flee but they have been happening for a while and I’d not read of an upsurge of late.

Why are so many people on the move now?

What on earth has just happened that could cause the parents of that drowned boy to put him at such risk?

Oddly, the coverage wasn’t asking these things. When such an obvious element of a story is missing I worry about why that might be.

Night after night, images on the screen left the impression these people were coming from Syria and words accompanying the images made little effort to dispel the impression.

It took me a while to realise these people had left Syria years ago. They were coming from refugee camps in Turkey.

United Nations refugee camps are wretched places, as we know from Rachel Smalley’s reporting for the Herald and World Vision this year.

She described some appalling dangers, particularly for barely pubescent girls who have to get married for safety.

But, dangerous as the camps may be, the millions living in them would not be there if they presented imminent life-threatening peril to most of those seeking asylum.

Most of the people now pouring into Europe are clearly not in urgent need of refuge, the majority appear to be young men on the make, and good luck to them.

I’m all for economic migrants. I think Australia should quietly welcome the boats. People with the energy and pluck, not to mention the money to pay smugglers, will probably be productive citizens. Continue reading

  • John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for The New Zealand Herald.
Additional reading

News category: Analysis and Comment.

Tags: , , , ,