Saturday, June 23, 2018

Thoughts on a storm bound island

So it was World Refugee Day a few days ago. 

Screen Shot from Instagram -
I did not even know that so many emojis exist for people's faces...

An unprecedented total of 68,5 million people are ‘registered refugees’. That is more than the total population of Great Britain.

Screen Shot from Instagram

Or almost twice the population of California, or Canada. Or the population of the area that used to be “West Germany” only a little more than 25 years ago.
If we take into consideration that almost the entire population of the United States is descended from migrants (except that they were called ‘immigrants’ back then), and the fact that migration has been a common habit in human history, that shaped the world (otherwise we would still all be in Africa), it is not understandable that we are reacting to people on the move today in the way that we have been recently. Only a very limited part of the (im)migrants that came to the US came for political or religious reasons, the causes that nowadays make a ‘good’ refugee, eligible for political asylum. They were virtually all of them on the search for a better life due to the economic circumstances back home.
Germany believes it has a ‘homogenous’ population. Not true. A fifth of the population has a ‘migratory background’. Not to mention the fact that even in historic times quite a bit of movement went on between the tribes of Europe...  My grandfather fled from Eastern Germany by swimming through a river to get across the border, and my grandmother and two of her daughters were allowed to follow after a few months later in what was called ‘family reunification’ back then, and what many German politicians do not want to allow for refugees with a certain kind of refugee status. Of course, he was labelled a ‘good’, i.e. political refugee because he was fleeing from political oppression by the bad communists. And it was the Fifties. And he was a German fleeing to Germany. 
But that doesn’t really make it a different situation to young Afghans today, who come to Germany in search of a safe life without Taliban interference, and who would like to have their families join them in their new place. But because the German government has decided that Afghanistan is a ‘safe’ country (ignoring the fact that people get blown up in the street all the time, how safe an environment is that…?) and they should not be fleeing that country to begin with, we won’t let them have their family with them.
How come we are making a difference in refugee status anyway, why do we have to differenciate between a political refugee and an economic refugee? Yes, a war is a terrible reason for having to leave home, nobody should have to endure that. But economic reasons are equally terrible, not any less valid, and certainly ‘political refugees’ aren’t a better kind of refugees than ‘economic refugees’. Which is the current state of politics in European countries. Because we have to face it: both, the wars and the economic conditions that people are fleeing from, were heavily influenced or created by Western politics and economic dealings. The affluent societies are responsible for the chaos that is characterizing the world situation today. And we cannot refuse to take that responsibility by building walls to keep people out of our countries, or by not allowing boats which have taken refugees on board in the Mediterranean entry to a safe port. 

World Refugee Day. When are the affluent societies going to understand that we need to make every day a World Responsibility Day? That we have to create living conditions around the world so that nobody would want to leave their country? It is our economic and political system that has caused all this trouble. We are exporting weapons, and then we are surprised that these weapons are used for wars, and that people who live in areas where wars are happening don’t want to stay there. We are exploiting and changing agricultural systems for our economic benefit and then we are surprised that people starve because their harvests are failing. We are supporting corrupt political leaders who will eagerly allow our economic systems to obtain cheap resources (and divert a good amount of the profits into their own pocket) and then we are surprised that young people who are fed up with being deprived of chances in their own countries are taking to the road, the rubber boat, and want their share of livelihood in our countries.
As I am spending these few days on a remote island, currently storm bound and uncertain whether the ferries will resume service by tomorrow when we are scheduled to leave these thoughts keep circulating in my head.

The past few years and my involvement with refugees have shown and taught me so much that has enriched my life in terms of friendships, understanding, intensity of living. But German politicians are squabbling about these issues of refugee-crisis-management in a manner that one wonders regarding their sanity of mind. The treatment of migrant families on the US-Mexican border, and the continuing demands for construction of a wall by the American administration is appalling. We have only one world to live in. And there are many other people besides us, the rich ones. Their rights are equal to ours, that is something we have declared, and there was a time when we were proud to have arrived at such a declaration. We must finally begin to fill it with life. Every Day is World Responsibility Day.


  1. Thank you for a very thoughtful article. Your point about past migration shaping our world today is a good one. Whether we like it or not, people will always seek better lives, safety, happiness. Rather than fruitlessly trying to stop it, our governments should work together to manage migration, and, as you said, to improve conditions in the home countries.

  2. yes. (Clapping sounds.)
    I wish you were able to go speak to these politicians about how it is from your experiences.

  3. Thanks for the positive feedback on my thoughts from the stormy island. Kathy mentioned, that quite a few people in the 19th century migrated for political reasons rather than a majority of economic reasons, as trying to evade conscription, or fleeing from Europe after the revolutions of 1848. Which is true. And there are the Pilgrims, coming to the US for religious reasons, and many others in that line as well. I do not want to downplay those numbers - the point I was trying to make was that it seems a bit fruitless to make the distinction between political and economic refugees nowadays. It didn't exist in those days, and way back then 'emigrating' to another country was possible. Even today, when Germans pack up their bag and go to another country, it is considered an adventureous undertaking, written about in magazines here. What bothers me is that we are judging people who leave and search for a better life by different means, depending on where they come from. And when they come from the 'wrong' country, we refuse to take into account the affluent countries' responsibitilities in creating situations where people don't see another way out of their miseries but to leave their home. Most people want to stay home, and will do so as long as conditions for them are liveable. Let's work for liveable conditions for people everwhere, then they won't want to migrate and we won't have to fight to keep them out, or close our borders.