The deaths of 39 people trapped in a refrigerated container lorry is shocking and tragic. Many wonder whatever made these people, and the other thousands of migrants fleeing their homelands, attempt such a journey and put themselves in such danger of their lives. There is always a reason, often a horrific one.
“we know that behind the headlines there is an unheard story of despair”
(From a prayer by the President and Vice President of Conference for the 39 people found dead in a lorry : https://www.methodist.org.uk/our-faith/prayer/a-prayer-for-the-people-who-died-in-the-lorry-found-in-essex/)
People are driven to these desperate measures by poverty, war and violence, discrimination and persecution. Some people, possibly like the 39 in the lorry, are exploited by people traffickers, and end up trapped into modern slavery.
Reading about the anguish of families who suspect that their loved ones perished in the lorry container, I was once again reminded that “the 39” were all individuals, brothers, sisters, even fathers perhaps. They undertook the dangerous journey to the UK with hope in their hearts that, despite the risks, they would eventually arrive in a safe place that would offer them a chance to improve their lives and the lives of the ones they had to leave behind.
What can we do? We can listen, welcome and respect everyone who comes to the UK in this way, and work to help all who are in similar need. Much good work to support refugees from Syria is being done here in the SE District of the Methodist Church. For example, churches in Knaphill, Horsham, Cranleigh and Guildford and many others are facilitating drop in centres, clothing banks and conversation cafes and social support.
The people behind the headlines are people like the rest of us, with families, livelihoods and professions.
In Jordan in 2015, when the war in Syria was at its height, I met Elizabeta and her two children, an Armenian Christian family, and heard her story. They had been forced to flee Aleppo, Syria, fearing for their lives, threatened by the violence of Daesh (ISIS). She and her small daughters had walked for days to reach the safety of Jordan, across desert, rocky gorges and under disguise when crossing through ISIS-held territory, terrified of being discovered.
Elizabeta was a teaching assistant, her husband owned restaurants, they had a comfortable lifestyle in Aleppo. Now Elizabeta found herself in a profoundly difficult and unexpected situation. The children were asking when they could go back home and play with their toys. Elizabeta knew there would be no going home. Her house and restaurants had been destroyed in the bombing the week after they left. Now the family were living in a rundown tenement block, subsisting on charity handouts. Her husband had been working in Saudi Arabia when the family left Aleppo and was not able to obtain a visa for entry into Jordan.
Thankfully the charity All We Can was supporting a programme of “cash for rent” which was helping Elizabeta and other refugees in similar circumstances. Such projects rely on donations. About 6.7million Syrians have fled their homeland. Another 6.2million are displaced inside Syria. (https://www.worldvision.org/refugees-news-stories/syrian-refugee-crisis-facts)
Since military operations increased in northeast Syria early in October, more than 130 civilians have been killed and more than 160,000 have fled, including at least 70,000 children, according to the U.N. refugee agency.
Migration is a growing global issue. At the end of 2018, 70.08 million people around the world were displaced (https://www.unhcr.org/ph/figures-at-a-glance).
These are not just numbers or headlines. These are people like us. They need our prayers, our help and our action.