Home: Thoughts on refugees

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I begin the morning with a cup of Earl Grey tea, where ever I am. A ritual that comforts me now, as I ask: Where is Home?

At this moment, I am technically homeless. I have possessions, objects, clothes in three countries: USA, England and Italy. No one place is my home, no one room represents my bedroom, no one country is my country of residence. At this moment.  It is a situation that thousands of refugees find themselves in.

Consider all the rhetoric about migrants that fills the internet and TV. Choose your vantage point…

– keep them out / let them in/ they are economic migrants / they are false migrants and potential terrorists / they do or don’t speak the language / they are a drain on the system / they are doctors, lawyers displaced, and so useful to the system.  Yet all the rhetoric does not define the fact that they are people like me, who live out of a suitcase.

Their life has been parceled up and their routines have been thrown away. They have had to choose between something they cherish and something that is useful. A cup of tea may be all that remains of what was once a structure and society that held them together.

My paternal grandfather’s family left Austria because of the systematic ethnic cleansing that was occurring in the nineteenth century in Europe. His family was Jewish. They came via London, where he was born, to a place of safety: New York. The Statue of Liberty welcomed them in – a family of refugees. They had a life with ups and downs, but it did not stop them putting down roots and making a home for themselves. My father lost his job when I was a small child, and so I was brought to London; we were economic refugees. My mother’s family were in Italy in the twentieth century, and left Europe because of World War II; they were refugees forced to flee because of war. In each case, my family sought a place to live and work without the fear of being persecuted or being unable to support themselves.

To be told to leave your home because it is unsafe, to quit the bedroom, whether through economic necessity or through emotional turmoil or through war, is an event that is as high on the list of stresses as death or divorce. In my life, I have known what it is to have lost my home on more than one occasion, and each time you say to yourself: Move on, bounce back, find a new place. Yet I look at some of the ancient faces of the migrants on TV, the grandmothers, faces passive, and grandfathers, with eyes that stare, who sit silently whilst the children rattle around dusty spaces. I look at those people on the newsreels and I understand how they feel. What I don’t understand is how the people watching feel.

The refugees want to have a cup of tea in a safe house, where no one shouts at them, no one turfs them out of their home so they can take over, no one threatens their existence, no one looks down on them and treats them with mistrust and condescension, and tells them they must run to stay in the same place, change to keep up with external demands. They just want a home where they can live in peace and have enough to eat, heat and sleep.

Isn’t that what you want? Isn’t that what you have? Do you think they will take it away from you? Is that your deepest fear? Is that why we reject them? Because someone has already taken their home away from them? Because they walk where we most fear to tread?

If only the world could change so that everyone acted on compassion rather than anger or fear, we could stop the migrant flow. Because most people just want to be back in their own home. To brew a cup of tea in a place of safety. Gandhi said that to change the world, you had to start with yourself. So I have only one goal, one thought at this moment: Eventually, when I find a home, I will put a notice outside my door, and it will read:

In this home, you will be offered a cup of tea. Everyone is welcome. This is a place of safety, where you can share your ideas and your values without judgement. Please leave your anger at the door when you come in.                        Won’t you join me?

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