Seeking a Safer Life

The first chartered flight of Syrian refugees arrived at Glasgow Airport recently bound for their new lives in Scotland; men, women and older children who have spent their last few years in the inhospitable confines of refugee camps, younger children who perhaps have no knowledge or memory of any other life than their pitiful existence there.  Yet uprooting your family with little more than the clothes on your back and walking hundreds of miles for safety from war offered by the camps is a decision that thousands of people have to make in order to live.  We can only hope that those on this first flight, and all following flights, settle easily in Scotland and find some peace in their lives.

Many more thousands of Syrians have chosen alternative means of escape from the country of their birth.  Instead of the difficult enough journey to a refugee camp in a neighbouring country, they have chosen to continue on an incomprehensible trek of almost 2000 miles to find sanctuary in a country at peace with itself.  You can only begin to imagine the despair and helplessness felt by the refugees when they began to see borders being closed in front of them after enduring so much to reach their supposed safety.  Others choose to escape by boat and we see only too frequently how that turns out as images of drowned children imprint on our minds.  We lose sight however of the fact that it is not only the children who drown; mothers and fathers also perish leaving orphaned children to face life alone in a strange country with a different mother tongue.  And our great leaders ordain to us that the only way to end this madness is to join in; just think  – if we bomb them hard enough, there won’t be any refugees!  Problem sorted.  It is when we find ourselves in this situation, that we should be thankful that we live in a country that has a political party that actually listens to the will of the people rejecting military intervention and that it chooses to play no part in Westminster grandstanding.

3500 miles to the east of Syria, the plight of the Myanmar boat people does not get the same level of exposure.  The Rohingya people fleeing persecution from the Burmese military undertake a similar treacherous journey across the sea to reach the safety of Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.  Held in military controlled camps and ghettos in Rakhine State, stripped of citizenship, ineligible to vote and with birth certificates being denied to babies, life in these camps is intolerable. Unable to obtain even medical attention without applying for an exit permit, the dangers of a journey across the sea outweigh the dangers of remaining where they call home.  Halted for the last few months because of monsoon season, boats are once again beginning to leave only to possibly encounter closed borders like their Syrian counterparts.  In early summer this year,  boats crammed with thousands of refugees were pushed back by government maritime patrols from the countries that they were trying to reach and were left stranded in the Andaman Ocean until international agencies negotiated a temporary relaxation of border controls.  The concern is that borders will once again be shut leaving Rohingyas fleeing a humanitarian crisis facing another one.

Only 6 months after our own staggering electoral wins at Westminster, Myanmar enjoys the same euphoria after Aung Sun Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, won an unexpected outright majority against the military backed ruling party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party.  Ending over 50 years of military rule, this victory will hopefully see the beginning of a fairer and more equal society for the Myanmar population.  The journey will be long and hard for the NLD but hopes are high that real change can happen.