There are times when only that extra level of personal engagement will do.
Last night I attended a Syrian Night in Bristol: a meal, music and storytelling arranged by the Cotham & Redland Community Sponsorship for Refugee Week.
The food was authentic & excellent and the music, Dijwar Khalil playing the traditional Saz, took me far from the leafy streets of Cotham and Bristol. The sense of connection to much hotter, dryer climes was palpable. A Palestinian sitting nearby explained to me that one piece that we heard was used by a number of Middle Eastern countries to evoke their homeland. I was reminded of the Welsh sense of Hiraeth.
Adding further to the sense of connection was our location: Cotham Church. Above our Saz player was a large cross with the crucified Christ. The thought hit me: Jesus wouldn’t have known English hymns. He would have known music such as this.
And then the storytelling. I had been anticipating myths and legends. This was something altogether more real, more recent, more raw. We heard, told by fellow Syrians who had probably had similar experiences themselves, collected accounts of desperate boat trips organised by uncaring smugglers and the moment when, after finally arriving in the UK, the refuge actually asks for asylum.
I’ve heard such stories on TV and read them in The Telegraph, but to hear them, first-hand, in an evening infused with Syrian cultural energy was altogether different. Real people. Real experiences. Experiences that no human should have to experience. Yet they do. In their thousands. And that’s just from Syria.
I noticed that someone on a nearby table was wearing an Extinction Rebellion shirt and another level of reality kicked in: Climate Change is already resulting in climate refuges. As floods and sea-level rises progress so political asylum seekers will be joined in ever growing numbers by individuals displaced by extreme weather events. Not might. Will.
There is some good news. Community Sponsorship in Bristol has already enabled 300 Syrians to find new homes here. Others will follow helped by this very evening.
And if we’re not able to help this resettlement process in a practical way, what can the rest of us do?
We can resonate with the refuges as fellow thinking, feeling human-beings. We can feel their pain with them. We can hear their stories.