He hadn’t gone out looking for children to rescue; just for a holiday, in fact. The children and their parents—if they had any, for many were orphaned or abandoned—had come to him, as soon as word got round that he might be able to help them leave and get to the West.
He made lists of the children, took their photographs, got them entry permits, found them foster families and organised their departure. He found the NGOs for refugees were, for the most part, unable to help, so he took sole charge himself.
In the hope of farther havens for them he wrote to governors and senators in America and even to the President, to no avail. He could have rescued at least 2,000 more, he said later, if America had been willing to take any… The Home Office was slow with entry permits, so he forged some.‘
What do you think happens next?
The Children, at least, would have recourse to a Statutory Defence for travelling under forged documents under Section 31 of the Immigration and Asylum Act of 1999, but what of their future? Although there is always the risk that, once encouraged to build lives in British society, they could be returned to their country of origin once they turn 18.
And what of our un-sung hero? Will he, despite his good intentions, be charged under the Identity Documents Act of 2010, perhaps measures put in place to prevent his continued flouting of rules that are moving “too slow”?
The above story is not from 2015, but is instead from a recent Obituary to Sir Nicholas Winton who passed away in July this year. The obituary in The Economist details Sir Nicholas’ efforts to save these children that started on a holiday to Czechoslovakia in 1938, and how in later years he wondered why saving the Czech children was deemed more heroic than his work for a mental-health charity or homes for the elderly…
“He had simply done what needed doing at that time, in that place. Surely any decent person would have done the same?”
I’m not sure they would, or even can. The days of Sir Nicholas Winton are now gone, but somehow are familiar to us. Winton noted how many more children he could have saved, and it is well documented that many borders were closed to Jewish refugees, most publically at the Evian Conference in 1938.
Today Britain refuses to participate in migration resettlement plans, Italians protest and block re-housing efforts and Slovakia refuses to allow entry to any non-Christian refugees (read: ‘No Muslims Please’). You can also note that distinctions between economic migrants and those seeking asylum seem to only leveraged when de-legitimising the claims of those knocking at the door.
Reading about his achievements I found myself wondering what would happen to Sir Nicholas Winton today. Surrounded by increasingly dehumanising language about migrants in the UK – even before our Prime Minister described them as a ‘swarm’ – I appreciate individual stories of assistance but would see little sympathy extended to anyone challenging the bureaucratic process as he did.
How would we find the courage to ‘simply do what needs doing’ faced with such circumstances today? I’m not sure we would…