I recently moved back to England, partly because I found my dream job, my life’s calling; and equally so that my son could go to school in peace after his school in Sicily fell down.
Now that I am back in England I am realising that the level of pity and sympathy for refugees is very low compared to that in Sicily. I still get lots of people writing and asking me if it is “safe” for them to go ahead with their holiday in Sicily, given that the place is “overrun” with refugees.
Firstly, it isn’t. You don’t see many refugees out and about.
When refugees come to an EU country, they first get put into a centre where they may not walk around freely. I have seen on television, and been told by a few people who have been to them, that the refugee centres in Sicily are pretty wretched places.
Once their paperwork is sorted out and they are granted official refugee status, the refugees are allowed to leave the centre and go wherever they wish within Shengenland. Shengenland is rapidly becoming a part of EU history, but at least in theory, it does still exist.
Refugees get whatever that country’s social services offers to its own citizens. In Sicily, this is very little. Actually, it is nothing.
Refugees don’t stay in Sicily because the Sicilians just don’t have anything much to give them, other than sympathy, a few old clothes and maybe a few strands of spaghetti.
Sicily has 50% unemployment, so what it definitely doesn’t have for them is a job.
So that is why you have no reason to worry that refugees are making Sicily unsafe; there are hardly any there. They are just passing through.
The third reason is, of course, that the refugees don’t come to Europe to start a crime wave. They come to be safe.
In the UK, they get a free home, monthly money, free medical services and free language lessons, computer lessons or other training to help them find a job. They have a permanent right to live on an equal status with the citizens. This web page tells them what they can get.
State help varies greatly from one country to another in Europe, but one of the things every single person does get, guaranteed, is a free education up to the age of 18 and the right to go to university. Whilst lots of people in England think refugees come here for the financial benefits, the right to an education is the really valuable thing we give them. That is the real reason they come.
In countries outside the EU, the treatment of refugees is very different indeed. They are not allowed to integrate with the citizens, they have to stay in the refugee camp living off food handouts. They are legally prevented from getting jobs in many countries and in the cast majority of countries, their children may not go to university. In most of them, they are not even allowed to go to school.
Everything is set up to make sure they never forget they are being granted temporary asylum, a place free of bombs and nothing much more, until they can go away back to their real home.
Refugee camps in Turkey and other countries bordering Syria are now full of Syrians who desperately want schooling for their children, whom they hope will be able to return to Syria in the future and rebuild the country.
When I asked the few Syrians I met in Sicily their main reason for coming Europe, they told me it was for their children’s future.
“I come here for my babies” one man told me in English, repeating the phrase several times. “My babies get school and can build their future in Europe.”
If none of the Syrian children can go to university or even to school, the Syria of the future will have no engineers and no architects; they will have no doctors or teachers; they will have nobody who understands how to create an economy out of nothing. What hope will there be for Syria?
The middle classes of Syria are continuing their exodus towards Europe mainly for this reason.
As someone who came to England for the same reason, for my son’s education, I truly empathise. Wouldn’t you do the same for your children?
I cannot think of anything a parent should fight for more passionately than for the welfare and future of their children.