There but for the grace of God ...

By Moira Billinge

His young shoulders were shaking with sobs as the terrified boy stood at the side of a traffic island, unable to dodge the hurtling cars which barred his route to safety. How many times had he tentatively placed a foot on the carriageway and just given up? There was nothing he could do and so he remained at the edge of the roundabout, immobilised by fear.

It was a busy Saturday afternoon and I was also attempting to negotiate the same roundabout; car window down and caught up in the vehicular jumble of confused drivers criss-crossing from lane to lane in the traffic free-for-all. The only hope for pedestrians of negotiating a safe passage to the shopping centre opposite was if they managed to locate the designated traffic lights which were few and far between.

The boy – he looked about 13 – must have been there for some time to have reached that level of distress. He had obviously tried to take a short cut to the shops and although many drivers would have wanted to stop and help the poor lad to safety, it was at a very dangerous section. If one car were to brake, others might not and there was a real danger of a catastrophic pile-up.

With the benefit of hindsight, the most sensible action would have been to phone the police who would have been in a better position to help but instead I carried on to the next roundabout so that I could double back, find somewhere to park and go over to him. Thankfully, someone else had got there first and I watched with huge relief and gratitude as a gentleman steered him safely across.

I accept it is rather stretching an analogy but his situation reminded me of the rescue of refugees fleeing their war-torn countries. Despite his terror, however, my 'roundabout boy', surrounded by the swirling, relentless, deafening traffic, could not have been far away from his family, a warm home and a nourishing meal, though it seemed to be little consolation to him; indeed, at that moment in time, his face mirrored the expressions of the migrants as they are hauled from the sea and their sinking boats.

For the genuine asylum seekers, who have risked and lost everything, the prospect of any home comforts must seem a very remote dream indeed. They have escaped one enemy, only to find that they are in the clutches of perhaps an even more dangerous one – from which they are unable to extricate themselves. They can only be saved by our mercy and willingness to treat them as human beings. 

It is all too convenient to regard them as a problem for somebody else to solve yet this is exactly what is happening because our initial sympathies – from when we first watched them emerging traumatised from the perilous waters – have begun to wane as they, in greatly increasing numbers, seek refuge wherever and however they can. These desperate people are now being seen by many as a drain on resources and a threat to our (by comparison) comfortable way of life; as a consequence, countries continue to haggle over whose responsibility they are.

I hope that if members of my family were caught up in such dire circumstances someone would – out of love rather than a begrudging sense of duty – feed, clothe and provide them with shelter because it really is a case of 'There but for the grace of God go I'.