There are no good refugees and bad refugees - humanitarian acts should include all

There are no good refugees and bad refugees - humanitarian acts should include all

JUST a few questions. Are there limits to our humanity?

How is it that something can be both heartening and disheartening at the same time?

And are there good refugees and bad refugees?

On one hand Irish society’s response to the expected thousands of Ukrainian refugees due to arrive here is wonderfully warm.

We can all see and hear and read what these people are going through.

We have all watched this tragedy unfold. We can see the crying children. We can see that crimes against humanity are being committed.

Of course, on seeing that we should respond with as much humanity as we can muster. We should open our arms and our doors.

But there is an asterisk in that, isn’t there?

There is a glitch in the narrative.

For what we are seeing, what we have to remember, is that these are crimes against humanity. Against humanity. Not crimes against Europeans.

The initial emphasis by RTE and BBC journalists that Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities are just like our own cities served a worthwhile purpose.

It was to show us that the guns and bombs were not falling on some comfortably far away place but on places like our own. Places we could recognise.

Ireland’s Foreign Minister, Simon Coveney, may have gone a little far in describing the, heretofore unknown, incredibly close links between Ireland and Ukraine but it came from a good place.

From, you know, a place of shared humanity.

And, perhaps, that emphasis on the closeness of this war was a necessary jolt to complacent, comfortable, Europeans, and the complacent, comfortable Irish.

There was no harm in reporting that this war was happening to people like us, people living like us.

Modern Europeans in modern European cities.

Somewhere along the line though this emphasis has become a distortion.

The people lining up, at least theoretically, to house and welcome Ukrainians fleeing war is wonderful. But it ignores one glaring fact.

We already have in this country people who have fled war and persecution and the majority of those people did not receive the same welcome.

Isn’t it worth asking again? Are there good refugees and are there bad ones? After all our response is supposed to be a humane one, the response of people expressing their shared humanity.

But a shared humanity includes all of humanity, doesn’t it? By definition?

It couldn’t be, could it, that some refugees are good because they are white and others not so good because they are not?

Reports I’ve watched and read about from the Ukrainian borders told of black people attempting to leave Ukraine being turned back. Were they bad refugees straightaway?

Earlier today I spoke to a woman who works with asylum seekers and refugees who was just going to meet the first Ukrainian family to arrive here in rural Ireland.

I wish them nothing but the very best.

I have no way of imagining what they have been through. I have no way of understanding how their lives have been ripped apart.

Any questions to be asked of how we treat refugees are not to be asked of them.

But instead of Ireland simply congratulating itself on its display of warmth and understanding it is also worth pointing things out.

Acts of humanity are only acts of humanity if they include everyone.

Our shared humanity is only really shared if it is shared with every part of humanity.

There cannot be degrees of humanity.

There cannot be those we would put our hands out for and those we wouldn’t. If someone was drowning you would reach out to save them, surely, irregardless of where they’re from, what colour skin they have, or who their people are.

I hope we save as many Ukrainians as we possibly can, and I hope we make them as welcome as we possibly can.

I hope we help them rebuild their lives.

But I hope too we do that for those already here.

Those stuck in a system that lacks basic humanity.

I don’t think, as a nation, we can be too kind, and too welcoming, and too tolerant.

You can’t be too good.