SUZANNE HARRINGTON: There’s no place like home — if you had one

We all know there’s no place like home — but what if there is no place to call home anymore? asks Suzanne Harrington

It’s Refugee Week. This is the week when non-refugees are supposed to think about refugees, for whom every week — every waking hour — is refugee week.

It’s not like they can just go home, because home is no longer home. We all know there’s no place like home — but what if there is no place to call home anymore?

“When I was a young boy, I had my own dreams,” says one contributor to an extraordinary new book, Voices From The Jungle. “It was never my plan or my dream to come to Europe. I came here by force.” Another contributor, still in his teens, says how he longed “to live with my mum forever.”

All the voices in the book talk lovingly about their homes, their families and communities, the people and places they left behind. Their homesickness seeps into the page. Their powerlessness in the face of war, genocide, ISIS. Their loss.

The stories recounted in Voices From The Jungle, published by Pluto Press, are told by those who spent time in the notorious Calais refugee camp. Even reading the stories is hard – it’s difficult to imagine what it must be like to have actually lived through them. “I don’t have words to explain it,” says one youngster of his journey to Europe.

“It was a kind of hell.” Says another, “It was terrifying.”

And when they reach their place of refuge – safe, wealthy, democratic Europe – they are frequently tear-gassed, herded at gun point, refused safe passage, dismissed as liars, opportunists, even terrorists. This idea is spread by our media, our governments, ourselves — we do not want needy foreigners using up our resources. We don’t want to share, or to think longer term.

We don’t want to open our doors to those who desperately need refuge – or if we do, we make it as unpleasant as possible for them, so that the message will trickle back that Europe is not all it’s cracked up to be (with perhaps the honourable exception of Chancellor Merkel’s Germany). Don’t come here, we want refugees to tell others still on their way. They don’t want us.

Living in the eternal present might sound like a Buddhist dream, unless you are a refugee. For people forced to leave their homes without a forwarding address, without knowing the whereabouts or safety of their family members, of never knowing when, where — or if — they are next going to eat or sleep, it is a waking nightmare.

And even if all the hurdles are overcome — you reach a safe place, you apply for asylum, you receive it when you show your torture scars, you work like a dog to learn better English/German/French, to become more employable, you find a tiny bedsit and learn to live on tuppence ha’penny a week even though at home you were an engineer/ a teacher/ a business owner — then what?

“I wish with all my heart I was at home,” says one refugee. “I miss my home so much.”

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