The urgency with which we need to try to halt climate change cannot be underestimated. Scientists have modelled the exponential rate at which climate change is advancing. And all evidence shows that it is advancing much faster than we had predicted. The melting of permafrost and of Artic ice shelves are examples of incidences that scientists predicted we would see in 2100, but they are in fact already occurring. Latest research doubts that we will meet our target of halting and reversing the warming of global temperatures by 2030.
Many people are already witnessing the impact of climate change in their everyday lives. Island states are seeing the rising sea levels encroaching their land. Other countries are witnessing severe droughts or heat waves. Communities are asking how they are meant to survive, when all water sources in a 50 kilometre range have dried up and disappeared.
Drought has also been identified as one of the root causes of the conflict in Syria. This conflict has so far resulted in over 5.6 million people fleeing their homes since 2011. The vast majority of these people have sought safety in neighbouring countries, Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.
The pictures from refugee camps are of ordinary people, mothers, fathers, grandparents and children, who have been forced to leave their homes as a result of conflict or natural disaster. They are referred to as displaced persons, but that is just a label.
Displaced persons have the same fundamental human rights as all other persons. They are also people like any other people, hoping for security, peace, wellbeing for their kids - and a home.
A home is family and friends. Your home is your pets. Home are the things that have meaning to you. The things may not have monetary value. But they create a reference for your history and for who you are, a feeling of belonging and of continuity.
My father was a little boy when his family fled conflict, travelling into the night. When my paternal grandmother was forced to flee Vyborg, she took with her two photographs, a porcelain cutting board and a faience vase, which had been her wedding gift.
These items, which I have now inherited, are very valuable to me. Others may not immediately identify their value, as they are not significantly beautiful or expensive items. Nevertheless, if I had to flee my home, these are the same items that I would also bring with me. These items have taken on a new meaning as they have passed down through generations. They signify “home” to me.
Setting up home again in a new place, whether forcibly or by choice, can be done. New things, places and people can take on new meanings and create a new or second home. Sometimes this means having to adopt new routines and new ways of doing things. However, we should not forcibly have to give up everything we brought with us that have signified home for us. Things or customs, even small ones, can provide comfort and consolation. They can help bridge old and new homes.
Where something is received as a gift for a new home, at its best it can create a memory of a welcoming gesture or friendly supporting hand, which can be a foundation for the creation of a new home. This is something each one of us has the power to gift to a new neighbour, be they coming from near or far.
Sirpa Pietikäinen is a Finnish Member of the European Parliament. As a member of Kansallinen Kokoomus she represents the European People’s Party.