Us vs them? When my world collided with the refugee crisis

FullSizeRender-2In September I was given a surprise horse riding holiday at a beautiful boutique lodge in Hungary. The country is renowned for it’s miles of sandy tracks – perfect for a knuckle-whitening gallop with the wind blowing through your hair and not a car in sight.

We happened to be staying 5km from Röszke, on the Serbian border. That week, this idyllic landscape was to become trashed with the detritus of thousands of travelers as the refugee crisis reached its peak.

Abandoned clothing, shoes, empty push chairs and a sea of discarded plastic bottles soon spread across meadows sweet with the smell of hay and late summer time. Villagers reported local shops looted and precious crops of pumpkin and paprika trampled by thousands of people on their way to a better place. Some questioned the validity of these refugees, equipped with the latest iPhone 6 and seemingly unlimited remote Internet access –  both pipe dreams for most of the poor communities that live in this area. Others lined up to volunteer to make food for the refugees that mostly ended piled up, uneaten, in the village rubbish bins. I began to feel sorry for the villagers.

Mid week, we passed the Hungarian border as the military rolled in to complete the building of the barbed-wire fence designed to keep refugees out.  There were close to 10,000 people behind the fence that day – too late to make it through, tired, angry and desperate.  Helicopters circled over-head, threatening to hunt down those who dared make a break from their woodland cover to try to cross over. A few young Serbian men tried to goad the Hungarian police into opening the gates. The Hungarians responded with water hoses and tear gas – knocking the crowd, including women and young children, for six. The tented camps erected to process the lucky few were cattle pens, prisons bound to make people feel more like criminals than simply those looking for safety from war torn countries. I had to pinch myself – in 2015?

Our politicians were fast to jump on their national agendas. “Come on in!” said Angela hoping to solve the German skills shortage. “Keep out” said Hungary and Croatia as they realized the momentous implications of the Dublin Regulation for their populations.

Although the society to which we feel we belong is usually the group with which we choose to identify with at any particular moment in time, Buddhism teaches us the need to identify with the largest possible group – humanity as a whole. Because whatever happens to one sub group within humanity will eventully affect all the others – even if that effect is not immediately apparent.

In the final analysis we sink or swim together. Wake up politicians.

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