What Comes After Refugees, Colltalers
The heartbreaking discovery of over 70 decomposing bodies in a truck parked on an Austrian highway, and the drowning of some 200 people in the Mediterranean, did what few refugee crisis news had been able to do in a long while: shock the world.
Whether it’ll be enough to sustain the momentum for a much needed redress of the biggest wave of the expatriated since WWII remains to be seen. But it does force a critical meditation on so-called globalization ideals of unifying peoples and nations.
The only difference about the dead on the road from the Austrian-Hungarian border is the route their brutal smugglers had taken from presumably war-torn Syria. Determining that is now a priority, along with ID-ing the victims, and a few expected arrests.
There was no novelty in the sinking of yet another crowded boat loaded with Libyans trying to reach Western Europe: even modest estimates place at 3000 the number of deaths at sea of would be migrants and war refugees in recent years. If it hadn’t coincided with the grim truck discovery, it’s doubtful that so many officials would be even talking about a refugee crisis today.
Such mix of fatalism and indifference hasn’t been a monopoly of government officials, though. Our bipolar, short span attention-driven news cycle rarely allows for more than a few days for any issue to remain top news for long, and often, when they do, the repetitive focus is on the more superficial, sound-bite friendly aspects of the theme. Adjectives, not nouns, have thus prevailed.
This being already the second week, expect some cooling of the coverage, along grandstanding by officials of the European Union – which remains lacking any comprehensive plan to address the massive migration movements that have afflicted the continent in the past decade – and members of richer Euro-zone nations, who have no intention of changing their border policies.
For, if we must be fair, plenty of predictable warnings and proposed solutions, even if short sighted and hardly practical, have been issued and discussed within the context of the U.N. throughout the years. Their lack of resonance, and effective power, though are only another consequence of efforts by those same rich nations, including the U.S., to undermine the U.N.’s mandate.
Also, it’s hard to time frame the refugee issue just as it is to contextualize it without starting an empty blame-attribution game, that would necessarily leave off crucial elements that characterize and define the geopolitics of our time. Not even the causes can be easily pigeonholed into a neat set of bullet points. Just see how easily even professional politicians get entangled explaining it.
Which doesn’t mean that anyone with a reasonable grasp on reality couldn’t nail it in a few strokes. Because, unlike politicians, regular people don’t need to constrain themselves to
what’s, well, politically correct, they can usually pinpoint its causes.
Since Nazi Germany, war has been exactly the main cause for massive migratory currents. Despite all rhetoric in contrary, borders are authoritarian and fluid by definition, and no amount of police containment is able to prevent them from leaking.
That includes not just armed conflict and strife, but also threat of ethnic cleansing, regime propaganda, and racial hatred, which politicians are masters at manipulating. Many a refugee family has been split open just out of marriage conventions, for instance.
Other well known motivation for people to leave their birthplace and migrate to distant lands is, of course, job opportunities, whose status are often determined by, you’ve guessed, the previous cause of migration, war. Consider how the U.S. has become so powerful in the past century using as a measure stick its ability to absorb immigrants, and you may see half of the picture.
Don’t worry, we’ll go back to the U.S. in a moment, but let’s get to the biggest new issue behind the modern migratory waves that has the potential to become the biggest cause for them in a very short while: climate change. And it’s already happening.
But first, let’s get out of the way the distinction between migrant and refugee, which may not last too much longer anyway. Despite being used interchangeably in this post, the accepted difference lies in the fact that all refugees are migrants, but not all migrants are refugees. While the former flee from an adverse situation on their own land, the latter are a separate economic entity.
Determined as such at the 1951 Refugee Convention, following WWII, and agreed upon by 146 nations, the status of refugee has been consistently disrespected and violated on a regular basis ever since, but it does provide a legal framework for enforcement.
Migration, on the other hand, is what’s built modern society, and there’s no hyperbole about it. Migratory movements centuries BCE have driven progress and occupation of the planet by humans (and the few animal species that followed them), and a still to be compiled comprehensive study of its effects on the environment would be an eye-popping compendium of revelations.
The environment is probably where the confluence of both terms merge, as migrants fleeing their homes may invoke man-made climate change as grounds to seek refugee status. That’s because, as we all know, war and inequality can indeed exhaust natural resources and negatively affect the conditions that allow for people to survive. In other words, pollution is no ‘act of god.’
Ocean warmth trends, for instance, have been identified as causes for the desertification of the Sahel region, and so is the sinking of coastal islands in Bangladesh. They are yet new ways that human gracefully disgrace the living hell out of other humans.
This is not a treatise on the thousands of conflicted areas driving migratory waves, whether by armed conflicts or simply because of those same societies’ nasty habit of dumping their waste on poorer regions, and profiting from it. Thus we’ll neither list them here nor start a long diatribe on just exactly how we’re constantly finding new ways to screw up the poor.
But it’s time to add climate change and environmental pollution to the usual suspects for the staggering poverty, homelessness, disease, crime, and downright violence people fleeing war in Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe are facing these days.
It’s amazing too that, back in the U.S., an obscenely rich impresario has been making strides in the pool of presidential candidates, with a baseless, violent anti-immigrant rhetoric. For those he calls Mexicans (in fact, every non-white person living in the U.S.; blame them first, ask for their cultural status after) are intrinsically linked to the economic wealth of the country.
And, contrary to what his phony rants would suggest, they’re not a meaningful component of crime and violence affecting Americans, even though they’ve becoming a major slice of the current record inmate population in the U.S., along with blacks.
That someone could blame immigrants to America for a laundry list of ills affecting the country, many inflicted by a generation of chief executives like him, who wouldn’t blink on sending plants abroad, and contracting cheap foreign labor, if it’d save them a buck, is a depressing reflection on the multi-billion dollar presidential campaign going on in the U.S. right now.
In some ways, he and his ink are no different from the vultures charging an average thousand dollars to bring you from a war- or environment-ravaged region to a spot on the curb of a developed society, or locked in the airless back of a truck. Through hidden ways, both kinds profit from a seemingly intractable situation, and almost always manage to elude detection or punishment.
But just like the pseudo-debate that always surge in the days following another gun massacre in the U.S. (there are now one per day, in average), it’s likely that public indignation will subside and political expediency prevail in the refugee/migrant quagmire.
As for mentioning globalization and ideals in the same sentence, it’s an old die-hard habit of ours. It’s now obvious that one had very little to do with the other, and judging by the stunning impoverishment of ever larger swaths of the world, that was actually by design, not chance. It’s fair to say that the concept was created first to pillage and then, if convenient, to open borders.
Countries sharing the euro are facing a similar awakening of sorts to this reality: the more they mingle, the more they seem to resent each other, just like in the good old days. Exposure to those of different cultures and languages did not boost tolerance and understanding, but exacerbated differences. Is that because social class must come before race and blood? Letters to the editor.
In any event, apart from the search for and awareness of the causes for what’s happening in Europe, and how stupefyingly oblivious we remain about its connection with the hate rhetoric against immigrants common in the U.S., it’s more important to ask ourselves, how can we help? And there is a myriad ways of inserting oneself in the solution of a global crisis like this.
It may be necessary, though, move your behind on your day off, for those lucky enough to have them, and visit unfamiliar neighborhoods, to gauge how the phenomenon touches every strata of our rich, and wasteful, society. And ask questions.
What’s always lacking in the presidential debate, for example, is the lack of inquiry, of critical response, of willful counter-reaction against the half-truths and blatant lies told by candidates. Don’t count on the corporate media to ask them for you.
Who does what so your life is easier? Where does the food you buy comes from? Who actually makes it affordable and healthy, so you can feed your family? Where does the help come front? Who clean our streets? Who, what, you got the gist.
Also, it may imply exercising a long-dormant, and probably stunted, muscle, that of compassion. We insulate and protect ourselves so well, even if for good reason but almost always without realizing, that suddenly our neighbors are strangers, and we no longer recognize the faces that serve us coffee in the mornings. Chances are, we don’t even know our postman’s name.
For it’s not grand gestures, loud displays of sympathy, or phony preaching what may make a difference in this world, even if in the small realm that surrounds us. It’s the commonality of purpose, the acting as a community in the interest of everyone, in the spirit of inclusion and acceptance, and that’s as far as this Sunday homily will go, folks. Apologies for the excesses.
Misguided resentment, or staggering indifference toward immigrants is not a new phenomenon. Neither are outstanding acts of solidarity monopoly of people we admire, or unsuitable to our sense of decency. Something can always be done, you can bet your precious smartphone on that. Did you know, it’s a two-way with the world? But cheer up, September should be better. WC