The sad news of the death of a great and humble man came out overnight:
“Sir Nicholas Winton, who organised the rescue of 669 children destined for Nazi concentration camps, has died aged 106.
Sir Nicholas, then a stockbroker, arranged for trains to carry Jewish children out of occupied Prague.
He, like others during the 1930s and World War Two period, took action at great personal risk to aid refugees in fleeing persecution by the Nazis. And he did this at a time when countries all around the world were rejecting Jewish refugees and returning them to persecution.
People of all stations in life assisted Jewish refugees. Even HRH Prince Philip’s mother, Princess Alice, gave refuge to a Jewish family in her own home in Athens during the war at great personal risk.
I honour Sir Nicholas and people like him who faced up to a great moral challenge and who took action. They are heroes and deserve our admiration.
The experiences of those persecuted by the Nazis in World War Two led to the establishment of the United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention.
This Convention established the principle that people might seek refuge when facing “a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular group, or political opinion. ”
Yet today people, like Sir Nicholas, who seek to assist refugees in fleeing persecution would be called people smugglers.
Australia seeks to reject asylum seekers who arrive by sea and has even established a punitive internment camp regime as part of a series of deterrent measures.
It is interesting to consider Australia’s response to asylum seekers and refugees in the light of the following definition of ‘concentration camp’:
“The term concentration camp refers to a camp in which people are detained or confined, usually under harsh conditions and without regard to legal norms of arrest and imprisonment that are acceptable in a constitutional democracy. ”
With refugees and asylum seekers today we seem to be repeating the sins of our forebears. This is a tragedy for the human beings who are suffering, and for our national conscience in the face of this moral challenge.
It is clear that local solutions will not suffice and that coordinated measures are the necessary and humane requirement.