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We can’t let refugees rely on luck alone

croatia refugee winter clothing save the children
Save the Children workers distributing winter jackets and blankets for children and babies on a freezing cold night.

What is luck? I’ve been asking myself this question a lot over the past few weeks. I’ve discussed it with colleagues, friends and family. I’ve even Googled it. From the philosophical, to the religious, it seems there are many different interpretations of what having luck can mean to a person.

I am currently in Croatia working with the Save the Children’s emergency response to the refugee crisis. It’s a crisis that has seen the biggest movement of people in Europe since World War II.

Throughout my time here, I have thought about chance and luck. What luck that I have not had my life torn apart by conflict. What luck that, by some fluke, I was born in a safe country.

Billions of miles

Many people I have spoken to these past weeks tell me of their lucky escapes – from war, from smugglers, from drowning.

I look into the tired faces of people walking across the border from Serbia, people who have crossed continents to get here. I see their relief to reach a queue, a bus, a train – ‘what luck’!

Last week, I met a four-year-old Syrian girl at a train station. “I was so cold,” she repeated over and over.

Her father told me that she fell out of the boat when they crossed over from Turkey. She is now reduced to tears whenever she sees open water. But she is lucky not to have drowned.

A mother from Afghanistan told me that, every day, she must ring round her family to check no one has been hurt by the daily attacks that instil fear across her country. Every day, all she can do is cross her fingers and hope that this time, they have been spared.

I have seen countless babies carried through the camp here in Croatia. Tiny little ones, just days old. This week, one was even born right here in the camp.

They are lacking all the things that newborns need – warmth, shelter, safety.

“It’s lucky that we are here,” I tell myself, knowing that some of those babies would almost certainly die without our help.

refugee croatia mother baby save the children
Rana* from Syria with her seven-day-old baby Amar*

A strange notion of ‘luck’

Yet I find it hard to believe in this idea of luck. These people do not seem lucky to me. But I know that for the thousands, the chance to flee from the dangers that are behind them feels like more luck than many have had in a lifetime. They have made it this far, and that is further than many.

There are two 13-year-old boys I know right now who do not feel lucky. They are in a care home in Croatia. They came to Europe with no parents, just a dream to live a better life in Europe.

“I don’t remember a time I was happy,” Mahmoud* tells me, his face sullen and tired. He and his cousin have gone through all the bad things you can on the journey, probably at the hands of their smugglers.

They tell me “It’s dangerous. Everything is dangerous,” for the children who travel alone. It seems thousands of children are taking their chances with smugglers, and will continue to do so in a bid for survival.

To reach safety, they need a huge amount of luck. Especially since, so far, Europe hasn’t managed to come up with a plan to help them that offers anything more solid for people to cling to.

Europe has a choice

So back to my original question: what is luck? The Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that luck involves the consciousness of choice – a human choice. Well I think this is where I have to end up. It’s a human choice.

Refugees might not have the luxury of choice, but Europe’s political leaders do. They can choose to ensure there are proper systems in place not just en route, but at home so that people are not just riding on luck. They can choose to make a plan. I hope, for the sake of so many, that it will.

NOTE: Save the Children’s 5 point plan tackles not just the immediate question of how to give sanctuary to those fleeing for their lives to Europe but also sets out how to tackle the root causes of conflicts from which many children and families have fled

*Name changed to protect identity

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