Because My Dog Was Once a Refugee, Too.

We made it to Taiwan for the extended holiday. Yesterday I attended my Mother in Law’s English class at the local town hall as the VIP guest (cringe!). The topic of the day was dogs. Naturally, I was in my element.

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3 days in to our trip and I’m already having withdrawal symptoms from my pup – I now know what his separation anxiety feels like.

The withdrawal manifests itself by staring longingly at other fluffy white dogs on the street, my brain tricking me that it might be Sunny, fantasising about taking one of the street dogs home with me, and launching into verbal diarrhea anytime someone asks about my pooch. So that’s what happened yesterday in class.

My darling Mother in Law also launched into a full blown soliloquy at one point about Sunny and explained how we came to adopt him. Cue the best English mistake ever:

“Sunny is from the shelter. Before, he was a refugee.”

Isn’t that an interesting thought? He was indeed a refugee. We don’t know much about his background but we do know he lived with one family before moving on and being found on the streets of LA county. We guess that his time with the family was tumultuous and unstable; he came to us with a host of physical and psychological problems. He was then sent to the shelter – or the California Jungle as we’re now referring to it – where we saw and fell in love with him. (The fact he was less than 6 months’ old when we adopted him made the reality that Southern California shelters kill their unclaimed dogs after 5 days even more harrowing.)

Why is it that we show such compassion and openness and acceptance to animals from the shelter, and yet we as a nation are not doing enough to adopt and house the unaccompanied minors from Calais? Why do we open our doors and homes to canines but not to fellow human beings with both basic human needs (shelter, food, sleep) and more complex ones too? (love, belonging, safety, relationships).

I used to be proud to be British. In my twenties when I travelled the world I’d tell people confidently that I was from the UK when they assumed I was American or Australian. Honestly, now – a decade later, I feel a sense of shame when I reveal my nationality. I know that I’m lucky to live in a wealthy country with plenty to rave about, but the actions of our government and skewed media coverage of the refugee crisis – and it is indeed beyond a crisis now – has recently give me pause for thought.

According to The Guardian, as of Saturday October 29th over 1500 unaccompanied minors (i.e. under 18s with no parents) are now living in shipping containers in Calais – some as young as 8. After the Jungle was demolished, some children and teenagers did not even have the option of a shipping container to sleep in and have been sleeping rough for several nights now.

These are vulnerable and desperate children, many undocumented and many at the mercy of smugglers and traffickers.

Many of these children have family in the UK and the right to be here. They should have been welcomed here months ago, already attending school and building a new life and healing from the trauma and atrocities they’ve experienced in their short lives. And it’s not just about the children – we should be opening our doors to humans of all ages. We all know that life does not get easier as we get older and fear and hunger and loneliness are just as real at 32 as they are at 12.

I don’t know what the answer is. I’m not naive enough to think that we can just open our doors to anyone seeking asylum. But I do know that we need to show more compassion, more love, and educate the irrationally nervous “they’re taking all our jobs and resources” folk in this country that that’s not how an economy works. 

Many of these migrants are educated, upstanding middle class citizens who have been forced out through circumstances we can’t even fathom. They are the lucky ones who could afford to flee. My sister, who has volunteered in the Calais Jungle several times, returns with stories of the people she has met and each one sounds delightful. Intelligent. Wise. Resilient beyond belief. These are the people we should be honoured to house in our country and live among.

I don’t know how to end this post. With the US election just a few days away I’m feeling blue about the state of affairs in the Middle East, Europe and America. But I saw this post on Facebook today, a message from a refugee in the Facebook group ‘Phone Credit for Refugees’, and it gave me a little boost of hope. A little reminder that there is good in the world. And so I donated some phone credit, to assuage my sour feelings.

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I’m off to look at photos of my dog…

Psst… Donate phone credit to someone who really needs it here

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