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Refugees are not invaders

As the relentless flood of refugees in and to Europe continues, as Robert Fisk notes in a piece "In treating needy refugees like invaders, we risk losing our humanity"  in The Independent, it bears remembering what Winston Churchill wrote to his wife at the end of WW2 about the many refugees seeking refuge in Europe, especially from Germany and Poland.

"The Great Wall of China, the walls of Rome and every medieval city, the Siegfried Line, the Maginot Line, the Atlantic Wall; nations – empires, dictatorships, democracies – have used every mountain chain and river to keep out foreign armies. And now we Europeans treat the poor and huddled masses, the truly innocent of Syria and Iraq, Afghanistan and Ethiopia, as if they are foreign invaders determined to plunder and subjugate our sovereignty, our heimat, our green and pleasant land.

Barbed wire along the Hungarian border. Barbed wire at Calais. Have we lost the one victory which we Europeans learned from the Second World War – compassion?

Since our latest cliché-rag is to tell the world that the refugee “crisis” is the greatest since that war, I was reminded of how Winston Churchill responded to the German refugee columns fleeing through the snows of eastern Europe in 1945 before the advance of the avenging Soviet Army. These, remember, were the civilians of the Third Reich – those who had brought Hitler to power, who had rejoiced at Nazi Germany’s barbaric genocides and military victories over peaceful nations. They were the people of a guilty nation slouching towards Year Zero. It was years since I read the letter Churchill wrote to his wife, Clementine, on his way to the Yalta conference in February of 1945.

But I looked it up this weekend, and here is the key section: “I am free to confess to you that my heart is saddened by the tales of the masses of German women and children flying along the roads everywhere in 40-mile long columns to the West before the advancing armies. I am clearly convinced that they deserve it; but that does not remove it from one’s gaze. The misery of the whole world appals me and I fear increasingly that new struggles may arise out of those we are successfully ending.” Churchill would have called his sentiment “magnanimity”. It was compassion."


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