Birds' Eye View: The suffering of children and the kindness of strangers

In this Aug. 21, 2021, photo provided by the U.S. Marine Corps, a U.S. Marine assigned to 24th Marin

A US Marine comforts an infant while they wait for the mother during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. - Credit: AP

It’s hard to find the emotional space at this moment to write with feeling about any other subject while mothers are having to pass their babies over barbed wire to US soldiers in Kabul.

The news is terrifying and heart-breaking to watch. We can only imagine the torture these mothers and fathers are suffering, desperately trying to keep their families safe in the chaos and the panic. The feelings of helplessness are overwhelming.

A friend of mine has friends and colleagues (Afghan nationals) in hiding in Afghanistan and the WhatsApp updates of him frantically trying to do what he can over here to help one particular family he knows with young children brings this nightmare closer still.

But, as ever in horrendous circumstances, the flickering light of hope appears as humans reach out to help other humans, and, in our little corner of Hertfordshire, locals are welcoming bewildered and traumatised families who are finding themselves in a strange land, by donating clothes, toys and other essential supplies to them.

The St Albans for Refugees charity and Griggs Homes are just two organisations coordinating local aid efforts - in St Albans and Radlett - and ensuring these poor people benefit in some small way from the kindness of strangers.

A baby being lifted across a wall at Kabul Airport in Afghanistan by US soldiers.

A baby being lifted across a wall at Kabul Airport in Afghanistan by US soldiers. - Credit: AP


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But, at the same time as this horror unfolds more than 3,000 miles away, I read in this paper an interview with St Albans Chief Inspector Mike Todd reassuring local people that St Albans is a safe place to live, amidst growing unease about reports of gang-related activity linked to County Lines. Of course it is: one glance at the news brings home to us the relative safety of the UK, let alone St Albans, compared to much of the world. It is difficult not to think how lucky we are to live here, by an accident of birth, and not there.

But the violence that surrounds the international illegal drugs trade is not just happening elsewhere: it is on our doorstep. More than 1,000 children have been trafficked into the UK drugs trade, according to the Home Office. County Lines activity involves children, often teenagers (the average age is 15-16 years), being coerced into selling drugs across local authority, and police, boundaries. They are often subjected to terrible abuse and intimidation, and forced to comply.

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The fact that it’s trickling down into the middle class enclaves of the country should not only alert us to the dangers facing our own children, but also serve to raise our awareness about the many victims of the drugs supply chain along every step of its journey from source to user.

And not least because there is a link between the recreational snorters of cocaine living in their comfy suburban homes (and yes, of course, it's rife here in St Albans too) and the terrible suffering this industry causes to so many along the way. The illegal drugs trade provides organised crime groups across the world with their income - it’s as simple as that. So anyone who partakes is a customer; enabling the process, enabling unspeakable violence across the world.

This is one area of wholesale suffering over which we in the UK can have some control if we have zero tolerance of this sort of drug use amongst our friends, our families and our acquaintances. It’s not cool to do a bit of post-dinner-party-charlie and it never has been: it shouldn’t be acceptable to anyone with a brain and a conscience, who allows themselves to acknowledge the darkness that brought it to your table. We should all be condemning this behaviour, loudly.

So if you are frantically digging out your children’s old clothes to help the Afghan refugees but engaging in a bit of ’harmless’ drug use with your mates across your Poggenpohl kitchen island on a Saturday night, give your head a wobble.

We may not have direct control over what is happening miles away in other countries, but we can all do our little bit to stand against any activity that leads back to the horror of the drugs trade.

To donate to Afghan families arriving in Hertfordshire:

St Albans for Refugees – stalbansforrefugees.org

Griggs Homes - Griggs' office in Radlett is being used as the collection centre. The address is 223 Watling Street, Radlett, WD7 7AL and it is open Monday to Friday between 9am - 6pm.

For more information on County Lines, see https://www.herts.police.uk/Information-and-services/Advice/County-Lines/County-Lines

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