Saturday 3 October 2015

Saturday Evenings: Stay In, Sit Up and Switch On

Let us start with the obvious truth. Most human beings are happy with the place in which they are born. Many might go to live in other provinces, states or countries but very rarely stay there for good. Why? Call it the “comfort zone” human gene. When people question the motivations of the hundreds of thousands of Cuban rafters who have left my homeland for the last five decades and counting, my answer is usually the same: “so, what would you do if/when…?”. I am still waiting for a satisfactory response. I know that if conditions had been appropriate those rafters would have stayed behind in what they know, their "comfort zone".

That is why I think that maybe Germany got it right. Perhaps the Teutons realised that utilising and maximising the skills of the refugees to whom they have given succour in recent months will eventually result in a further strengthening of their economy. Many of these arrivals are highly skilled professionals. I know that the drawbridge has been raised and the flow has been halted somehow, but still, taking in hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers calls for the sort of leadership that, sadly, is missing from the UK nowadays. Where Merkel was decisive, Cameron dithered.

Ask any Syrian escapee if they would rather stay in their country of origin without Assad or migrate to a different nation with an almost alien culture and they will choose the former. Time and time again I have seen the interviews on the BBC and other channels with recent arrivals in the UK and other European countries and the reply is usually the same: I never wanted to leave. I was forced to.

I think that we need to look at the reasons why people flee realistically. If you, as a government, are in the arms trade you will create refugees. If you once had an empire where the sun never set, those ex-colonies at some point will come back to haunt you. If you subsidise cheap exports that impoverish local economies in developing nations, you are encouraging exodus. Where does an African or Asian farmer go when they cannot sell their crops because they cannot compete with the free-flowing, inexpensive imports from Europe? First, they will go to the big cities. But if they are not lucky there, they will move further and one day they will be knocking on your door. You can call them “swarms” or “cockroaches” but they are human beings who had a life back home. If you prop up dictators abroad, the population subjected to their control must/will find a way out. Some of the people on boats or crossing Hungary on foot are escaping from theocracies. The irony is that it has been the ever-more-secular West that has supported the increasingly-religious Middle East. Iraq, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, the list is never-ending.

Human beings, not "swarms"

The only way to understand the refugee crisis is to don the refugees’ clothes, to wear their shoes, to imagine what it is like having a stable life and to lose that stability the next minute. Not only that, but that standard of life (and we’re talking basic here) has been replaced by the worst nightmare you can possibly imagine. If you have children, look at them now: what is it like to bury them after a bomb has been dropped on you and your family? Do not answer immediately. Let that question sink and then ask yourself another one: what if that becomes your way of life? Would you get used to it?

It might come as a surprise for some but I am in favour of immigration controls. Not because I think that we are being swamped. I am an immigrant after all and I carry that badge with honour. The reason why I think we need controls and timelines is because I know that most migrants and refugees (two different categories, please, do not get them mixed up) want to go back home when the time is right. However, why should a human being return to bomb-hit places with the possibility of more calamities to happen? It is human to have the right to a decent life. The arms industry, unfortunately, ensures that this right remains a chimera. The habit of meddling in other countries’ domestic affairs makes losers of the more vulnerable. Supporting corrupt tyrants of whatever political hue not only interferes with democracy but also undermines local efforts to restore order.

Back to my earlier point. Perhaps Germany got it right. I read in The Economist recently that Frau Merkel has accepted the sudden influx of refugees with the proviso that as soon as conditions in their countries of origin improve they ought to return. Meanwhile, whatever monetary value we attach to the asylum seeker question should be overruled by the human value these victims of misfortune have. After all, some of their problems were caused by those barring their entry now.

© 2015

Next Post: “Killer Opening Songs”, to be published on Wednesday 7th October at 6pm (GMT)


  1. It does seem most stick to where they were born or come back or long for it. But the awful crap many refugees have to go through Germany sure sounds to be helping out with. They may have got it right indeed

  2. How I wish that we would follow Germany's lead.
    I agree that we are complicit in many of the reasons that people are being forced to leave, often taking their lives in their hands to do so.
    I also resent the superior attitude so many of our politicians adopt. Which one us doesn't want safety and security...?

  3. I've never been an immigrant but I know Bosnians who were educated with the purpose of returning to Bosnia after that war, and they just found the opportunities were greater outside that environment. that might well be true in many other countries too. Perhaps the memories are too bad to want to return. I'm not sure really that one can generalise.

  4. I love this post, and I agree that many, and probably most, people stick in their comfort zone. In my case, I find this to be very true. I haven't traveled much in my lifetime, and the times I did I only traveled to two other provinces in Canada (Ontario and New Brunswick), as well as the U.S. However, not by choice, really, but due to lack of finances. That being said, though, there is a city/area in Montreal in which I grew up, and as I got older I moved away from the area. But when I was 40 I returned to the very city...and not only the city, but the actual street, only several buildings and one block away, from the area in which I grew up! Comfort zone, perhaps, but also a form of reminiscing for me.

  5. It makes for an interesting conundrum.
    The humanitarian thing is to help. The state of the worlds economies
    is pretty rough these days, as well. I think the German solution is a good one.
    But who is to say it is going to get any better? Not with Russia and the US
    knocking heads again.

  6. Well said, as always. I do hope the refugees can go back home if conditions improve. The Pope came to the USA and he had quite a convincing argument for providing them refuge as well, he said "we were all foreigners once". He really was a good speaker and made sense with what he said.

  7. long time since I heard Gloria. Thanks for reminding me :)

  8. I wonder how many Englishmen fled their homeland when the German Blitz began in 1940.

    I am of the feeling these single, male Afghans, Syrians, Iraqis, Pakistanis and others between ages eighteen and forty should have stayed at home, picked a side and fought for their beliefs, rather than run for cover to another country. Too harsh a viewpoint for many, I suppose.

    Essentially, I am in agreement with you, CiL. The saddest part of this is that the flood of refugees probably could have been avoided had Western nations been under pragmatic leadership the past few years instead of operating under rules of see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. And, I firmly believe the worst is yet to come.

    Well written and thought-provoking piece, CiL.

  9. If it were me and I needed to protect my family from starvation or war, I'd do anything, break every law, to bring them to safety. I didn't earn my cushy life; it was handed to me. Others haven't been so fortunate and it isn't their fault any more than my good fortune was something I deserved.

  10. HI ACIL - well done and you've set the 'challenge' out so sensibly. I don't know the answer ... but Germany had it right - yet now it appears it may be too many ... and how many very right wing parties will spring up ... the many of us don't adhere to fervour and certainly don't act on it - in our democracies. The thing that interested me was how quickly Hungary and others clamped down - they don't want their white citizens mixing with others. The language too - it's interesting ... not a nice interesting.

    I think probably we are doing quite a lot in the Middle East in our under the counter way ... but there are so many influences, I suspect we get thwarted often. We still have a lot of historical knowledge ... and tend to be diplomatic (now) and work with people .... I really don't know ... I just sincerely hope we can get ourselves, Europe, Eastern Europe and the Middle East and Africa out of this dangerous quagmire.

    Interesting for me to think about - thanks ...Hilary

  11. My flight back from Nepal included a stopover in the Middle East. The trip from Kathmandu to Doha was full, almost entirely, of young men looking for work in the Middle East. One figure I heard was 15000 young men leaving Nepal each week, looking for work abroad.

    I looked at them, some not much more than boys, everything they owned crammed into one small holdall. Leaving behind mothers who would grieve for them, fathers trying to rebuild damaged homes or struggle in the decimated economy.

    It made me think about the difference between refugees and economic migrants. I don't believe all these boys would be leaving everything they know and love, to be enslaved in the Middle East, if they felt they had a choice. They are driven away by lack of work, lack of opportunity, lack of education.

    And as for what we are doing here for refugees - it makes me ashamed to think of what is being done in my name.

  12. Merkel is doing a great job and we're also seeing a big influx into Sweden too...

  13. These are such difficult problems-- your candor and thoughtfulness provide really useful insights. The situation is such a quagmire--in terms of military action-- and so devastating on the human side. Thanks. K.

  14. It's also I think true that most people who end up needing to flee their own country would ideally like to flee to a nearby country and one of the reasons for such an influc of refugees into Europe at the moment is the widescale extent of unrest

    When I lived in Malawi, that country (one of the poorest in the world) was hosting refugees from unrest in Mozambique and I was constantly impressed by how well the refugees were (in general) treated and how well they integrated into Malawian society and when things improved in Mozambique then it was easy for people to go back home.

  15. Tener que ser refugiado político es tan distinto a ser emigrante por un ideal de un país o de situación económica, ya que en los dos casos siempre hay un sueño para una vida mejor, pero muchos de los Sirios se ven obligados a dejar el país teniendo una vida confortable en él, de la que se ven que hay que huir del país para sobrevivir.
    Es un problema que nos afecta mundialmente.
    Un abrazo.

  16. Most of us can take no credit for the circumstances under which we live. In the hopes of building a better life, my father and his family emigrated to the U.S. in the '20.s, but I , and most other Americans, live in this country because we were born here. Should others who are born into an oppressive society, or who seek to flee the horrors of war, be denied safe haven because of the circumstances of their births? I don't think so. I agree with you ;Germany has the right idea.

  17. Excellent post. The Republican party has gone absolutely insane with anti-immigrant fever. Witness Donald Trump claiming all the undocumented immigrants from Mexico are rapists. America is a land of immigrants, which is something that a very large part of the country's population has either conveniently forgotten or never bothered to learn.

  18. I am mindful of the old proverb... there but for the grace of god go I!!

  19. My heart really goes out to the genuine refugees...being forced to flee their homelands in fear for their lives.
    I can't even begin to imagine what it must be like to be so desperate that you'll willingly risk your life to find a safer place to live.
    Yes, of course we should all do our bit to help.
    My only fear is that there will inevitably be infiltrators whose motives are more sinister.
    How can we possibly differentiate between refugee and terrorist?
    This is such a complex issue...and the potential human cost of getting it wrong is terrifying...

    Greetings from the rain...:)

  20. Why is it that difference between migrants and refugees? From which point of view? Based on what? Who is allowed and why to tell another human being "you cannot come here"? Who decides and why that people from one country can be tourists and granted visas while others are obliged to apply for visas that in 90% of the cases are denied? I wonder...

    1. Good question. My answer is that economic migrants want a better life and their lives are not in immediate danger. I am not saying that they have no right to emigrate to another country, I am just stating a fact. Refugees, most of the time, have to flee or else... we know. The issue is that economic migrants usually move from one country to another to make up for a shortfall in the local workforce. Namely, economic migrants very often end up doing the jobs that the locals don't want to do.

      Greetings from London.

  21. A good and meaningful post with some valid discussions above.
    Like Stephen said "I didn't earn my cushy life; it was handed to me" It is the same case with most of us. We all have/had a good life and have no idea of what these people are going through. During the Holocaust, people hid behind the excuse "we didn't know the extend of what was happening" Could be partially true due to the communication problem in this days. Today it is not so. The world is aware of what is happening but is just wishing/hoping that it will be OK soon.

  22. Great thoughts indeed, hopefully this crisis will be a wake-up call for the western nations.



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