At the end of the day, we are all refugees looking to return to a mythical and original lost paradise. If we are persistent, there will be no walls or barriers or tricks to stop us in our path.
2015 is turning into an especially difficult year for Europe. Difficulties started around the world in the year 2007 with the United States economic “crisis”. But this year we have seen the first six months marked by the Greek tragedy which, if it wasn’t for the hardships born by the people of Greece, would not be just an absurd piece of theatre with the soulless Troika and European Commission blackmailing the Syriza government in the worst possible way. There is little to add to what everyone has seen. A couple of months since the matter was front-page news, I have the sensation that the behaviour of European governments has been riding among the surreal characters of Fellini and Ford Coppola’s mafia bosses. Neither Mastroianni or Brando could have done it better.
If anyone would have believed that Tsipras’s acceptance – without conviction – of the Troika’s memorandum would have put an end to this great turbulence, the drama of refugees from Syria and other countries started. Once again, more and more European meetings at the highest level, and once again – with permission of the poor refugees – government behaviour that goes from Hans Christian Andersen’s “the Emperor’s New Clothes” in the best of cases, to the character of Eli Wallach in “The Magnificent Seven”: the mixture of an idiot who believes that he is keeping up appearances, and a miserable person without scruples who will do anything as long as he gets what he wants.
I believe that enough has been explained about the people fleeing from Syria because of war, and that this war that started just over four years ago has been stirred up from the beginning by NATO. In other words, countries such as Hungary and Croatia have helped to stir up a war in Syria and now they run away from having to welcome, or at least help, the damned. Not only have their houses been bombed but then they find the borders closed in their faces. Of course, neither Hungary nor Croatia decided to militarily support the Syrian rebels of their own accord, but they, together with other countries such as Spain, France, Germany and many more, participate in a US-led military structure that has actively supported, supplied weapons and bombed directly on the ground, those who have risen up in arms against the Assad government.
So, European governments cannot turn their backs on their responsibility in this case. Of course every country has the responsibility to help refugees as best they can, and in fact countries on the periphery have been looking after these refugees for years; the result of wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, to name a few of the biggest. However, no one thanks them publicly for the work done by nations that count on much fewer resources than Europeans, given that the latter have a greater responsibility as a result of their participation in NATO.
What is a refugee? There is not one single answer to this question; the UNHCR gives the official definition as the biggest international organisation specialising in this subject, although other definitions can be found that are acceptable: Humanitarian asylum is the practice by certain countries of accepting immigrants on their soil who have been obliged to abandon their country of origin due to the dangers they face including; racial, religious or civil war, natural disasters, etc. Refugees are forced to flee because they don’t have sufficient protection of the government of their own country.
In our case, being generous in our definition, we would say that a refugee is someone who leaves their place (country, region, etc.) because they find the future closed there, and decides to try and open the future in another place. So the majority of current emigrants could be considered refugees, as they aren’t moving because they chose to, but because they are obliged to.
In my case, the parents of my grandparents decided to leave Russia when the civil war started in the first years after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. My grandparents, born in Russia, grew up moving between European and neighbouring countries. So my mother was born in Serbia and my father in Lebanon, although brought up in Germany and Austria respectively. Shortly after the end of the Second World War, towards 1950, my grandparents decided to immigrate to Argentina with my parents still young. I was born in Argentina, and just over 20 years later I came to Europe. Here, more precisely in Barcelona, I had a daughter who is the fourth consecutive generation born in a different country. Both my parents and grandparents were considered refugees by the UNHCR in that moment (in fact this organisation was born as a response to the migration crisis after the Second World War) and they were welcomed without problems by Argentina. I come from a family of refugees who were well received in their destination country.
Although there have been large migrations for thousands of years in which entire nations have moved from one part of the planet to found new communities somewhere else, in the 20th century it started to be something more frequent to be a long-distant migrant. Towards the end of the last century, thanks to progress in transport, and after the year 2000, to move around the planet has become relatively easy. If to this we add the advance of economic globalisation and telecommunications, it is logical and expected that migration will increase. The response by governments to this growing phenomenon has been to put in place more obstacles at the borders (with the exception of the Schengen Agreement between some European countries that is currently under threat). So, while it gets easier for money to circulate around the planet, for the benefit of those who have or who manage the most money, the difficulties for people to move increases.
Right now, the great migratory drama is to be found in south-east Europe. Contrary to what is assumed, refugees can enter with relative ease into Europe from Turkey, but in the countries of eastern European to the north of Greece things start to get complicated. Hungary has championed the path of immigrant rejection, seconded with less fuss but just as much by Croatia and Slovenia; these three countries are stepping stones towards the sought-after Germany, and to a lesser degree, Austria, Scandinavia, etc.
Contrary to what has happened with the European political crisis in Greece, this time Germany is not championing the soulless, but rather their position has been quite reasonable. Of course this position is largely due to the need for foreign labour which can be well covered by refugees from the current wave as among them are many professionals. But even so, for once we must be grateful that Mrs Merkel isn’t acting as the Iron Chancellor. In any case, if the massive influx of refugees were taking place on the Spanish coast, surely Spain would be acting like the hysterical Hungarian Prime Minister, Victor Orban, and the same could be said of many European countries from east to west.
The problem of Syrian refugees is current – at this point it is necessary to note that if for Europeans it’s a problem, it’s difficult to imagine how the poor victims looking for a place to settle are experiencing it –, but the aforementioned response of governments is unfortunately already very old. To the traditional rejection of something strange, coming from the darkest times of human history, something still upheld today in many people of Europe and other places, we can add the enormous distances in terms of quality of life between rich and poor countries, a distance that has been widening in the last three decades thanks to neoliberal policies that have been applied almost everywhere around the world. And as if this wasn’t enough, given that one of the results of these policies is an increase in unemployment, without a solution in sight – and exacerbated in countries like Spain – and given that this unemployment has grown in inverse proportion to the quality of life of the population since the crisis of 2007, rejection of “competitors” is even greater in certain sectors of the population. It’s the classic struggle among the poor; driven by the media at the service of big capital which, once again, ends up being the sole beneficiary with their typically characteristic short-termism, of course.
At this point, while thinking about an appropriate end for the article, I realise that the response by the majority of governments of civilised Europe is of such a miserable level that there are no words to express it. The mere fact that we must write about this situation is already a sign of the total failure of supposed European civilisation that they’ve tried to impose on the rest of the world under the guise of polite manners. Are there still individuals on this small planet who don’t realise that we are still talking about human beings? People who have been born as children, grown up as best they could, with suffering but also joy? People who may have some inappropriate behaviour but also big dreams? People who aspire to be happy if they can, just like anyone of us? How have we tricked ourselves to believe that the happiness of some is opposed to the happiness of others? Will we never grow up…?
So, what do we have to do? We must appeal to the best of human beings, to something that in the darkest moments has saved us from total disaster, an empathy with others that has been called brotherhood, solidarity, camaraderie and fraternity in different moments of history. Whatever we call it: when people are capable of recognising themselves in others the barriers break. “Competitors” stop being so, people open their houses if they can, and put the best of themselves to help those who need it. Today it’s the refugees, tomorrow it could be others, even us…
It’s already happening. In the current refugee crisis, while some erect barriers, others open their doors and hearts. Although the provisional triumph seems to be of the former, it always ends up being the latter, those who are supported by something bigger, something that surpasses us as individuals, something that drives us from the past and draws us towards the future. This thing that humanises us, makes us grown within, makes us be better people.
A few months ago when a criminal attack took the lives of a few journalists, many people said, “Je suis Charlie.” Today we can say, “I’m a refugee”, “We are all refugees”. Although it may seem that we are different, let us not be deceived by appearances. We are a single heart, beating in unison.