The refugee crisis and the real price we will pay if we don’t respond appropriately

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The refugee crisis and the real price we will pay if we don’t respond appropriately

It’s very difficult to speak about the current refugee crisis without feeling that my views are inevitably going to rub some people up the wrong way and although that is not my objective, I make no apology for doing so if it happens.

RefugeesI am in awe of the rapid and efficient response of those people who are keen to do practical and sensible things in order to offer aid and assistance to refugees – such as setting up donation websites and collection points for donations of clothing, toiletries, household and other essential items – but I am equally appalled at the petty small-mindedness of others whose only response has been to bleat that “charity begins at home”, whilst simultaneously sitting on their backsides and not actually doing anything for anyone – either at home or elsewhere.

One would have to be living in a cave not to realise that there are people in Britain who, through no fault of their own, are homeless or living in poverty and who are experiencing genuine hardship. There are those who have slipped through the net of welfare provision and others who find that a small change in personal circumstances is enough to generate a material reduction in their quality of life or the amount of money they have to live on. They are the victims of a government which has disregarded their plight in its attempts to balance the books – the very same books which have been fiddled and manipulated by wealthy bankers, very few of whom have had to pay any penalty for their part in the mishandling of the economy. The poor and the needy in Britain are expected to carry the can as this government ruthlessly tries to eradicate a deficit which the poor and needy did not create.

Britain’s poor have been unfairly painted by the wealthy, elite sector of society as a drain on the middle-classes and are being punished accordingly, with the introduction of ever more draconian “austerity” measures, whilst the ruination of the economy can quite patently be laid fairly and squarely at the paws of the fat cats who have spent the past few years covering over the traces of their whiffy business in the financial litter box. I don’t see a lot of austerity measures in place in the House of Lords when its members shuffle in from time to time to claim their daily “allowance” and then naff off again. If that’s not a grossly unfair society, I do not know what is.

Sadly, the result of the recent General Election demonstrated that there is a significant proportion of the electorate in parts of Britain which doesn’t actually care about whether we have a fair society or not. That said, the results elsewhere – certainly in Scotland – showed a rather different picture. Regardless of the result of the referendum in September 2014, Scotland roundly rejected the uncaring ideology of the Conservatives and the wishy-washy backtracking nonsense espoused by Labour and the Lib-Dems. The colossal wave of SNP MPs sends the strong message that Scotland has rejected the status quo and ensures that the voice calling for a fairer, more compassionate and caring society is going be heard rather more loudly in Westminster. The SNP in Scotland also makes it very clear that caring and compassion also extends to refugees and asylum seekers and that Scotland intends to play a full part in doing so.

The current refugee crisis has shown up social attitudes very clearly, illustrating that because the government and its supporters do not care about the poor or the sick or the disadvantaged in Britain – they cannot really be seen to show greater benevolence to refugees coming to Britain from elsewhere. Instead they sit back and allow the poor, sick and homeless in Britain to question why home-based charitable organisations are looking after refugees and those in crisis overseas, whilst government policy continues to turn the screw on the needy in Britain. It also allows the armchair social commentators to rest complacently on their ample backsides, complaining long and loud about migrants and asylum seekers taking houses, jobs and benefits from poor British people, whilst not actually having cared two hoots about those same poor British people before the refugee crisis reached its current state. All that their sudden “faux” concern for the poor has done, is to create a climate of fear, suspicion and resentment towards refugees and migrants, whilst continuing to sit back and do nothing for anybody in need – whether “our own” or not.

There was an amusing Daily Mash spoof article circulating on social media earlier this week, with the headline “We need to look after our own first, say people who would never help anyone”. This extract “quote” from it is particularly significant: “These refugees may be fellow members of the human race but that is not enough reason to help them. What matters is not a person’s level of desperation but their geographical proximity to your sofa.” The spoof was undoubtedly very funny but the reality which underpins it is not. There is a troublesome prevailing attitude amongst a sector of society which fails to acknowledge any form of humanitarian responsibility towards anyone other than own countrymen and women. Even if they couldn’t have cared less about them before, suddenly the poor and neglected at home are a priority… or at least they are, if the alternative means potentially helping the poor and stateless from elsewhere. If the situation was reversed, one wonders how these people would feel if they were the ones fleeing from danger and persecution and they were denied safe passage into a country where they could have some prospect of a safe future – simply because that country was apparently too busy “looking after its own” to care about anyone else facing a more imminently desperate situation.

The reason that there are so many involuntarily homeless people in Britain is not the fault of refugees or migrants. It is because there is a chronic shortage of social and affordable housing. The reason that there is a shortage of social housing is because the Thatcher government sold so much of it off and did not replace it. Additionally, the high cost of maintenance has led to other social housing schemes being allowed to fall into such disrepair that they have been demolished and the land sold off to private developers.

The fact that there are poor, needy and homeless people in Britain is not in doubt; neither is the fact that more could be done to create a fairer society but this situation exists significantly because of government policy, underpinned by its flawed ideology. It is not, however, a humanitarian crisis – and that is the crucial difference. There is nothing wrong in highlighting and addressing the issues which cause poverty and hardship in Britain and indeed so we should – but this is not a matter of either/or.

ShipInnocent people are dying in war zones and some are dying whilst trying to escape from the tyranny and vengeance of terrorist regimes. These people are giving up their homes, their jobs, leaving behind everything they own, taking a few meagre possessions and putting themselves and their families’ lives at risk in trying to get to a place of safety.

How many British people have found themselves doing that so far this year, I wonder?

Millions of people have fled Syria, millions more are displaced within it. Countries like Lebanon, Iraq, Italy, Greece, Turkey and others are struggling under the sheer volume of numbers of Syrian people trying to gain entry in order to feel safe. Some of these countries are far less prosperous than Britain and can ill afford the impact of millions of refugees landing on their shores but they are taking them anyway. Much of the fabric of life in several cities and towns in Syria has been all but destroyed and there are millions of people who now have little more than the clothes on their backs and a few personal items in a bag. Some don’t even have that.

 They have nowhere to go unless more countries in Europe start doing their share and stop expecting others to do it all. In the longer term, it is reasonable to expect other countries outside of Europe and further afield to do their bit too – making it possible for refugees to make a new life. In time, a lot of them will probably wish to return to Syria – but in the interim, they just need somewhere where they will be safe.



                                
David Cameron has been on the wrong foot right from the outset in his handling of Britain’s response to the refugee crisis, with his tactless, mealy-mouthed platitudes and he has compounded this further by attaching outrageous conditions to the meagre response he is offering. The idea that he would agree to take Syrian children as refugees, enable them to be cared for, educated, and allowed to hope for some kind of a future in Britain… only to deport them when they reach the age of 18 is abhorrent and shows that this over-privileged man is clueless, heartless and completely devoid of humanity. Britain is better than this and it’s time we stopped using self-serving individuals like David Cameron as a model for our response to people who are in crisis. If we follow his example, we all stand to lose our fundamental decency, our compassion and our humanity. Is that really a price worth paying?

For those who cannot see further than the end of their own nose, I would say this: Instead of demonising refugees or the people who are trying to help them, why not target your wrath at the government which is creating a society structured primarily for the benefit of the wealthiest and for those who give least back. Don’t be under any illusions that if the government chose not to provide funding and resources to offer a safe haven for refugees, they would instead spend these resources on the poor of Britain instead. That won’t happen and this will never be about “looking after our own instead”. Demand that Britain’s government does what is morally right – not politically expedient.

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Remember when I used to have a blog…?

734590-cobwebs-and-crystal-ballYes, I do too – vaguely. I decided that it was probably time I dusted off the old blog and got writing again. It’s been two years since I last did so. I even found a (still in draft form) entry about our visit in 2013 to Madagascar  that will probably never see the light of day now… but never say never, eh?

What has prompted this? Probably a return to my original plan of trying not to use my Facebook status to embark on regular rants on a variety of topics –  a plan which fell by the wayside quickly and still does so, often. A blog is probably a far more appropriate medium for that sort of thing and so I think I shall resume its use. For how long? How often? Who knows?

Whatever happens, I shall strive to make it entertaining and worth reading but beware – I may use some of you as… inspiration.

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“No one is more insufferable than he who lacks basic courtesy.” ~ Bryant McGill

We went to the theatre last night to see Fiddler on the Roof. It’s one of my favourite stage shows and this was a fabulous production, starring Paul Michael Glaser – he of Starsky and Hutch fame – in the leading role of Teyve the village milkman. Those of you who have seen the film will recall that he also played the role of Perchik in the 1971 film version of the story. He and the rest of the cast were excellent, not least because as well as acting, singing and dancing, they provided the music for the show by playing musical instruments “in character” in lieu of an orchestra. No mean achievement, I can assure you.

If you get a chance to see this touring production which runs until April 2014, I would urge you to do so. Here is a link to the tour dates so you can see if it’s coming to a theatre near you.

We thoroughly enjoyed the show but one of the more poignant scenes was slightly marred by the sudden interjection of someone sitting somewhere behind us who loudly said “Could you stop talking please?” to someone else who was also sitting behind us. There was some sort of muffled response from the offender, whom I must admit I had not heard talking but I don’t doubt that they did. The next retort from the complainant was “Just shut the f*** up!”

My point is this; although the rebuke was probably more intrusive than the behaviour which prompted it – for us at any rate – I could not help but have sympathy for the man who complained. Ken and I have encountered this appalling phenomenon in theatres all over…. here in Edinburgh… in London’s West End – even on Broadway!

We went to see Priscilla in London a couple of years ago and there was a drunk woman in the row in front of us who insisted on talking and fiddling with her phone during the first few scenes of the show. Ken eventually asked her to stop talking and for the remainder of the first half of the show, she sarcastically and noisily kept hushing her friends each time they laughed at something in the dialogue. It was almost as irritating as the talking was. However we had our revenge as she was apparently so drunk that she was ill in the toilets and she missed the rest of the show, which we were then able to enjoy in peace.

But why do they do it? Why spend money – and theatre tickets don’t usually come all that cheaply – to see a show and then talk all the way through it? Why do these ignorant people imagine that anyone else would rather listen to their inane comments rather than the performance on stage? Why also do these people seem so aggrieved when they provoke anger and irritation in others who challenge their selfishness and lack of consideration? I don’t really have a lot of tolerance for gratuitous bad manners in any situation but interrupting or otherwise disrupting a stage production is arrogance and rudeness to a breath-taking degree. It’s intensely irritating if it happens in a film cinema but a hundred times worse when the performers are physically present on stage. It is crass, ignorant and unbelievably discourteous.

It’s a pity that complaining about it simply adds to the disruption so I wonder if perhaps the answer might be to fit theatre seats with a device which will deliver an electric shock to any occupant who speaks more than 6 words between the start of the show and the interval or between the interval and the finale.

If I were a rich man… I would design, patent and install them in every theatre!

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Still Kenya – but this time… a tragedy

Yesterday afternoon in a busy shopping mall in a Nairobi suburb, a group of Somali terrorists waged war on hundreds of innocent people. Current estimates place the death toll at 68 – including three Britons – with a number of people, who may be hostages or in hiding, still unaccounted for. The reason for the attack is stated as being in response to Kenyan military operations in southern Somalia, where around 4,000 Kenyan soldiers have been fighting militants since 2011.  According to the BBC website:

The attack began at about 12:00 local time (09:00 GMT) on Saturday, when the militants entered the Westgate centre, throwing grenades and firing automatic weapons. A children’s day was being held at the time – children are among those reported killed. Some witnesses said the militants told Muslims to leave and said non-Muslims would be targeted.

It is not my intention to go off on any sort of anti-Islamic rant because I do not believe that this atrocity is in any way representative of the doctrine of Islam, however there is no escape from the fact that Islam is being used as a mechanism for terrorist acts more and more often.

I do not blame true Muslims for this and although my knowledge of Islam is not great, I believe those who truly understand Koranic scriptures when they state that Islam is a religion with a central message of peace. I do not believe that a majority of Muslims support acts of terror perpetrated in the name of Islam or that these people consider non-Muslims as “infidels” to be wiped off the face of the earth.

I do however believe that the time has come for Muslims who do not wish their faith to be misused or defiled to address the issue which is set to become the greatest threat to their religion. The world will be a poorer place if the terms “Muslim” and “terrorist” become synonymous but each time that Islam is misguidedly implicated in atrocities such as happened yesterday, that possibility comes closer in the narrow minds of an increasing number of blinkered people.

So then, is it now time for Muslims to reclaim their own faith – regardless of sectarian differences –  and for them to speak as one, that they do not want Islam to be seen as a religion of violence, intolerance and hatred? I suggest that perhaps that time is drawing closer and maybe it is time that Muslim religious leaders, politicians and academics took ownership of the problem that is staring them in the face and reminded all Muslims what their own faith is all about.

The solution does not rest with anyone else. Criticism from non-Muslim sources will have no impact whatsoever. It has to come from within Islam itself and perhaps a wholesale rejection of fundamentalist doctrine and complete condemnation of terrorist acts carried out in the name of Islam is the only way this calamitous tide of hatred and violence can ever be turned – even if that means redefining and reclaiming what it means to be a Muslim.

As with every other right-thinking person, my deepest sympathies lie with everyone caught up in this shocking incident and I hope the attackers feel the full weight of the punishments applicable under Kenyan law.

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Kwa heri Kenya!

We had our first long lie on our final morning and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in camp. We had been very impressed by Elephant Pepper Camp – particularly its ethos toward sustainable tourism. The camp has won awards in recognition of its efforts in maintaining environmental responsibility and its work in supporting and integration with local communities. According to the camp’s own website, the camp’s owners have designed and built Elephant Pepper Camp in such a way that “despite being an elegant and comfortable camp with substantial tents, Stefano has maintained the ethos of non-permanence and designed it so that it can still be completely removed to leave a virgin site.

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Lounge tent and Dining Tent                                                 Our tent

Camp managers, Patrick and Sophie, both grew up in various countries in Africa and regard it very much as home. They are now passing their love of Africa on to their son Alexi, who was born last December and they and their entire team have succeeded in making the camp a very happy, welcoming place where nothing is too much trouble and where everyone is looked after wonderfully.

The camp is named for the Elephant Pepper tree which grows throughout the camp grounds. The fruit and leaves of the tree are fiery in flavour and enjoyed – not surprisingly – by elephants. Although different in flavour to chillis, it is worth pointing out that chillis are also  much beloved in Elephant Pepper Camp and they feature as condiments on the table at meals in many guises – such as a very pleasant chutney, a hot chilli pouring oil and as a particularly hazardous preparation which is presented in a tiny dropper bottle and goes by the name of Genocide! I didn’t try it myself but I was reliably informed that one or two drops are more than enough… It makes an appearance at every meal… even breakfast!

After finishing off our packing and saying our farewells, Francis drove us back to the airstrip in order to catch our plane back to Nairobi but en route he had another treat in store for us – a final look at our lions. As the local guides all keep in touch with each other via radios, it is possible to find out very quickly where all the action is and this morning Francis had been told that the lions had brought down a buffalo earlier. He drove us out to where the entire pride were enjoying a very substantial breakfast.

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DSCN0494      The tail is clearly one of the best bits!

We watched for a long while, whilst they all tucked in – apparently oblivious to us – but one or two of them had already eaten their fill and were settling down for a lovely snooze in the sunshine.

It was time to continue on our way although we did have time for an extra stop for some opportunist photos of a few more zebras, warthogs, hartebeest and a giraffe who were all just hanging around together!

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DSCN0528We arrived at the airstrip in good time… too good, in fact – because our plane was late in landing to pick us up. Francis waved us off and dutifully waited until we were airborne before driving back to the camp and we flew on to the next part of our big adventure.

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Wildebeest Migration

Wildebeest embark in enormous numbers on long-distance migrations according to the seasons and our trip to the Maasai Mara coincided with the “long dry” seasonal migration. During the migration, the wildebeest move from drier grazing to those areas where the grazing pasture is greener. This journey involves crossing the Mara River and it is considered to be one of the “must-see” spectacles of any Mara safari.

We made an early start for our lengthy drive to the Mara River on our last full day and, before stopping for another bush breakfast, we stopped for a look via our binoculars and long lenses at another group of lions – the Marsh Pride, featured on BBC’s Big Cat Diary.

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One of the males has a very distinctive and handsome dark mane but as he was asleep and because we still had a long drive ahead of us, that was more or less all we saw of him.

The first river crossing point was deserted – apart from a couple of hippos – so we drove on and through the river at a point where the road also crosses it.We had to pause whilst another couple of safari vehicles struggled to get up the steep bank on the other side – one of them in the end required to be emptied of its passengers and be towed up. Francis, of course, made it look very easy when it was our turn to cross!!

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When we got to the river, there was a huge number of wildebeest milling around on the far bank showing what looked like a combination of hesitation and impatience. The collective noise of several hundred nervous, bellowing creatures is quite unnerving but their anxiety is understandable when you see what they are trying to do. Astonishingly, sometimes they hang around for days at a time before making any attempt to enter the water.

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Nobody wants to go first; the entry and exit points can be hazardous, the numbers of animals who end up crossing together can be huge and the risk of being trampled and drowned is high… and worst of all, crocodiles are usually lurking nearby, waiting to take advantage of a seemingly easy meal. Eventually the numbers reach a critical mass and all it seems to need is one creature to take the plunge and the others automatically follow… or at least that is the theory!

We tried a couple of points along the river where it looked as if the wildebeest were thinking about making the crossing but it just didn’t happen. We eventually found a spot where a group of around 15 wildebeest had scrabbled their way down a very sheer rocky slope into the water only to discover that, not only was there not a suitable exit point but the way back up onto the bank from where they had descended was going to be difficult. They quickly got out of the river again and onto the water’s edge.

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Going back up the slope they had come down was going to be very difficult, with no real footholds on the rocky surface… but more significantly, although there was a route back up a very short distance across a small grassy hillock above the water’s edge, their route back up onto the bank where the other animals were still congregating was impeded by the presence of a watchful crocodile, who was awaiting their next movements with interest.

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There was a growing sense of urgency amongst the wildebeest to get themselves to safety. A few of them made another attempt to go back up the way they had descended and one of them made it all the way up but the others could not. Taking the path past the croc was looking like the only real option.

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After several more minutes of hesitation, the wildebeest appeared to manage to take advantage of what looked like misjudgment of the part of the crocodile. At one stage he had turned his back on the wildebeest which, as Francis explained, was in order that he could use his powerful tail to push a wildebeest into the water if he had the opportunity. He wasn’t patient enough however and in the end he turned back round… the wildebeest immediately saw their chance and every single one managed to run past him and made it safely back up onto the bank!

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Well, even if the crocodile missed his chance for lunch, it was time we had ours! However, moving away from the river to have our lunch was our mistake because in doing so, we managed to miss another crossing! It just wasn’t going to be our day. It was disappointing but at the same time, I enjoyed watching the wildebeest we saw getting the better of the hungry crocodile and I was glad they all survived!

Generally speaking, wildebeest aren’t the most attractive-looking of animals. They are underdogs of the savannah and they lack the “awww” factor of many of Africa’s signature species but I can’t help liking them all the same, in spite of that. Wildebeest seem to be taken pretty much for granted so in order to redress the balance, I would like to nominate this particular (front half of a) wildebeest who deserves a special mention for this singular achievement… ending up stuck up a tree – with a little help from a leopard!

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