A Better Life

Although the emergence of another deadly variant reminds us that Covid continues to rage across the world, we decided to brave the throng and fly to New England to celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends. We walked the wind-scoured beaches of Cape Cod trying to keep pace with the eager new puppy who is, (perhaps), the latest addition to the family. Technically, a “foster” dog, but so sweet she may charm her way into a permanent home. We ate a delicious non-traditional meal.  Who knew lobsters are the new turkey? And caught up with folk we haven’t seen since we all thought the plague was a horror confined to the Middle Ages. Such wonderful travels.

And yet, even as we negotiated airports, accommodation, and car rentals, about thirty people perished in the English Channel, trying to make their way in an overcrowded inflatable from France to England. As far as we know, they were escaping poverty and persecution in the Middle East. Sad to say, this kind of tragedy is so commonplace, we’re no longer shocked. All kinds of craft cleave Mediterranean waves in the too often vain hope of disgorging their human cargo on the shores of Greek and Italian islands. Many of the refugees, desperate for a new life away from the wars, terror, and terrible hardship of their homelands are cheated out of whatever they can beg or borrow to pay for this perilous passage. Recently, we learned of the political games being played with the lives of migrants hoping to pass from Belarus into Poland.  And, although the cooler weather restricts their numbers, migrants continue to flee tyranny in Central America and make the dangerous journey into and through Mexico to the US border.  Currently, there are  a staggering 82.41 million refugees in the world, people who risk exploitation, violence and death for the chance of a better life. We can predict that, as the disparity between rich and poor grows ever wider, and the impact of the climate crisis disproportionately impacts the poorer nations of the world, we will witness people fleeing in ever greater numbers. Cynically, I doubt that there will be the political will to treat these folk in a humane way. Last week, I heard a sad story from the second world war of the cruelty some refugees from Nazi Germany endured.

As the European continent became an increasingly dangerous place for Jews, many abandoned their homes and livelihoods. Some made their way to the United Kingdom where, generally, they were reasonably well accepted  – until …  As tensions with Germany boiled, and war was declared, so British paranoia towards anyone with a German or Austrian accent spiked. The British, believing they were, (at least in the early years), the last bastion to defend civilization, feared that anyone with connections to Germany could be a spy, and a threat to the western world. Hence, those with a German name or accented speech were liable to be rounded up and sent to detention camps, often on the islands surrounding the British mainland. Suspicions continued to rage and fear grew that Britain had too little capacity to detain all the potential spies. Ever heard of Australia?  Plenty of room there.   In 1940, over two thousand, five hundred men boarded HMT (Hired Military Transport) Dunera to be deported to Australia. Recall, these men already escaped almost certain hideous death in mainland Europe, travelled to Britain, been herded in detention camps, and now sent thousands of miles away, when, for the most part, their “crimes” were to be Jews  or to have a German-sounding name.  (The “royals,” not surprisingly, swiftly changed their name to “Windsor.”) The Dunera was, for all intents, a prison ship, with appalling conditions; one toilet per thousand “passengers.”  Inevitably, many died before reaching Australia. The survivors, thankfully, were well treated and, although they were housed in detention camps, enjoyed good conditions, and set up their own educational classes. Predictably, on their release a year later, many chose to stay in Australia, rather than face the return voyage and the inevitable suspicion and dangers of Europe.

HMT Dunera

Time is ticking by and we are not sure if we will travel again to celebrate the festive season, to enjoy our good fortune, our “better life.”  Either way, we will be sure to remember the world’s refugees, perhaps particularly those whose lives were endangered as the US abruptly pulled out of Afghanistan. We heard that an Afghan family is settling in a city not too far from us. 

It’s my holiday wish that we can learn from the Australians in world war ll and find a way to help them.

 1UNHCR estimate

End Notes

Reading

The Body Keeps The Score
Bessel van der Kolk

Listening

Be Thankful for what you Got
William De Vaughan

Diamond Platnumz Fr Rayvannyy
Ayanna Whittier Johnson

Viewing

King Richard

Poetry

Readings from the Book of Exiles
Padraig O Tuama

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