A simple train ride

17 September 2015, 15:22 UTC | Europe And Central Asia, New Zealand, Syria
A young refugee on the island of Kos, Greece. © Amnesty International
Vivian Chandra - ICT Database Manager at Amnesty International in New Zealand.

We’ve heard the numbers. 60 million people displaced. The worst refugee crisis in 70 years.

Four million - the equivalent of entire population of New Zealand have had to flee Syria. 12.8 million are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria.

And here in sunny New Zealand, we are arguing over whether another 750 is too many to take in.

But amongst the numbers what seems to be forgotten all too often is the people.

Vivian Chandra - ICT Database Manager

But amongst the numbers what seems to be forgotten all too often is the people.

I was reminded of this recently, so, I'd like to share that story.  It’s a simple story about a train ride.

Just a few days ago, I was heading to London on the Eurostar train from Belgium. It was a routine train ride to culminate in a meeting at our offices in London. The first inkling of any trouble happened around Lille, in France.

The scratchy voice on the PA said that there were people on the tracks and that we would be delayed for up to fifty minutes. There was grumbling, a murmur: "I think it's migrants". An irate sounding voice from within the cabin said "My sister said, last time this happened, it took over twelve hours to get going again."

Then as the train started off, about an hour and a half later, you could see the passengers putting it behind them, making their own mental calculations about the delay and what that meant for their travels.

Then in the last stop before the Channel, as the train pulled into Calais, it stopped again. The same scratchy PA voice again announced a delay, this time indefinitely.

Again, angry voices from the cabin.

After another 45 minutes or so, the PA voice announced that the delay was still indefinite, and that they think the train in front of us had hit someone. I immediately felt sick to my stomach. The "refugee crisis" suddenly became real.

For many around the world, this moment happened with that photo. If you haven't seen it, (or heard about it), don't go seeking it now, suffice to say, it was a shocking image, shared with wild abandon, and yet, it seemed to strike a chord with many previously unmoved.

For me, this moment had been building ever since I arrived in Europe. Driving past the makeshift refugee camp in Brussels, Belgium (and hearing the tour operator announce it callously, as if they were an attraction to be gawked at) and then the events on the train journey culminated in a very real, very visceral feeling in my gut.

Syria Refugee Camp in Brusells © Xavier Gerard

What finally brought it home, however, after arriving safely in London, warm and a bit tired, still thinking of the cold people trying to walk across the Channel Tunnel, were some of the other passengers. In particular I heard one gem of a conversation (you could hardly help it, they were yelling at the top of their voices).

Irate passenger: "WHY was there a delay? This is YOUR fault".

Eurostar Staff Member: "There was PEOPLE on the tracks, what did you expect us to do?"

Irate passenger: "I don't care, now i'm late!!"

Eurostar Staff Member: "Did you want us to run them over? Answer me, yes or no"

Irate passenger: "Yes, it's not my problem they are on the tracks"

This conversation left me cold. The fact that there are people in the world who think an hour and a half's delay is reason enough for someone's death makes me fear for the world.

So, today, dear readers, I ask you, with renewed vigour, do whatever you can. Call for #doublethequota with us here in Aotearoa, or join in the efforts in your own countries, there are people out there, in parts of the world where winter is coming, wondering if they will ever feel safe and warm again.

Take Action - Sign the petition to Double the Quota

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