Lucy Mangan

“Syria – it’s simpler than they want us to believe” Lucy Mangan on the human cost of the Syrian crisis

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Lucy Mangan
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We can all understand the human cost of the Syrian crisis, argues Stylist columnist Lucy Mangan

So, the Calais ‘jungle’ – the encampment housing thousands of refugees from various war-torn countries – is being demolished. It’s both a perverse and apt way, I suppose, of marking the fifth anniversary of the civil war in Syria that has so swelled the numbers of dispossessed there.

Five years. That’s a long time. Long enough for 320,000 people to have been killed and nine million to have fled their homes, spilling out into Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, and then for 150,000 or so to have made their way down what are now well-worn migrant routes to what they hope will be the safety of Europe.

I still don’t understand, really, what is happening in Syria, any more than I understand – in more than the broadest brush terms – what has happened in all the dozens of war-torn states and countries whose people bleed out of them because there seems to be nothing any higher or international power can do to bind the wounds.

I used to feel bad about this. I know I should know more. Not for the first time, I would like to put a call out to the BBC to start doing a Newsround for adults. John Craven’s still with us. He’d do it. Perhaps he could read through my Twitter and Facebook feeds, where people keep posting articles that apparently back up their myriad beliefs and ringingly refute those of others, and arrange them into one coherent whole for me.

But at the same time, do I really need that? Because it’s got to the point, for me, where the most necessary thing to do with all these impossibly complex crises is just to keep a hold on the fundamentals. Just ask the simple questions. Like: what do we know about all wars? They, like ordinary life, obey the principle that sh*t rolls downhill. It’s never the people causing or directing the conflict that are forced to leave in their thousands – it’s ordinary people. Ordinary people who suddenly find themselves being bombed out, shot at, their schools, hospitals, public transport, the infrastructure they took for granted all their lives, suddenly gone. Clean water gone, sewerage gone. Disease rife. They can’t stay.

And that’s all you have to understand, really. That if you were suddenly getting bombed and shot at, if the town around you was being destroyed, you’d have to go too. And the more desperate the situation got, the further afield you’d have to go. Across oceans, eventually. Not because you were stupid, or greedy for benefits, but because the UK or France or Germany was your last, best hope.

As the five years have gone on, the language and the attitudes of governments and parts of the media has hardened against them. But that begs another simple question: what are they asking us to do? They are asking us to think of these people as fundamentally different from us. To believe that they left their homes voluntarily, gladly paid their life savings to traffickers, put their children on tiny rafts on open seas and risked death to come and live here, all because they fancied an easy life.

If you keep it simple, you see that this cannot be, unless you consider these people not human at all. If you keep it simple, you can see that but for chance – accidents of birth and time and place – it could be any one of us, desperate for safety, while bulldozers tear down the tents that were our last, best hope.

Just when I think I couldn’t be any more jealous of my baby boomer parents, with their final salary pensions, free travel passes, winter fuel allowances and house they bought for sixpence on a joint wage of a shilling a year (or something) comes more joyful news. A rash of new figures telling us that our generation can expect to have to keep working until anywhere up to their 81st birthday. 81! I’m knackered NOW, and I’m barely halfway.

And what do they expect us to be working as at the grand old age of 81? Sure, there’ll be a few who got their NHS hip replacements in time and can exploit the niche market for octogenarian porn, but what about the rest of us? Cat sitting? Bath chair testers? Fisherman’s Friends quality controllers?

Millennials, you need to use your youth and energy to come up with a better answer than this. HURRY we don’t have much… actually, no rush, whenever you’re ready, we’ve got loads of time left.

Photography: Ellis Parrinder, Getty

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Lucy Mangan