I have to bear the guilt and shame of contributing to the present situation in which hundreds of thousands of men, women and children are trying to escape the brutality of war and the cold cruelty of ISIS. As a former diplomat who was seconded to the UK military for the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath, I have seen at first hand how successive British Governments have, by their overt and covert involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria helped stoke the conflicts that have resulted in the suffering of our fellow human beings who now look to us for help, compassion and sanctuary.
The reaction of the Government to date has been heartless and disgraceful. It is not sufficient to claim that we are doing more than anyone else to provide humanitarian aid for those in the camps in Turkey, Jordan and elsewhere in the region nor to make great play of how we export values of democracy, human rights and concern for the individual wherever we dispense our overseas development budget and then squirm away from offering practical help to those who take our claims at face value. The Prime Minister has said that taking more and more refugees is not the answer but that bringing peace and stability to the region is. Since 1945 and before, diplomats, politicians, soldiers, spies and, of course, Tony Blair, have been trying to do exactly that, succeeding only in making the situation worse. What are those who are suffering right now meant to do while the Prime Minister adds his efforts to those of his predecessor?
We have been put to shame by acts of kindness by Germans, Icelanders and others who have been prepared to open their homes to individuals and families. It is too much to hope that our political leaders could demonstrate similar compassion. I have space in my house and I am sure that there are many others who are willing to dissociate themselves from the present Government’s attempts to live up to the Eton motto “Floreat Etona” (Let Eton Flourish) with the apparent addition of “……. and damn the rest”.
Charles Bird served with the British Army in Iraq, he is a member of Veterans For Peace UK.