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Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The number of shame…

Until 1994, I lived in Castricum, a small, but generally well-to-do town near the North-Sea in The Netherlands. When the sun was shining, life was good there. We went to the beach and drank beer and enjoyed life as it came, during my teenage years. I had good times there and bad times, but I will never forget about my ole’ town.

But what if this small and centuries-old town of 25,000 inhabitants was doomed in a way.

That its inhabitants would become victims of a strange, but deadly disease, and the whole population would be annihilated within 14 years; one neighbourhood at the time. It would make me feel desperate, even though I have left this town twenty-odd years ago.

I had to think about this ole’ town, when I read the news from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) about the number of (economic) migrants and refugees, who had perished since the year 2000.

Here are the pertinent snips of this article, which was published in the Dutch newspaper AD:

Since the year 2000, more than 40,000 migrants have perished during their attempt to start a better life and future in a different country. This number has been published by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), last Monday, 29 September. It was based on their own research.

‘Our message is perfectly clear: migrants die, while this ought not to happen’, according to director-general William Lacy Swing of the IOM. He called for the international community to offer more aid to these migrants and do more than ‘simply counting the number of casualties’.

Europe is apparently the most dangerous destination for refugees. Since the year 2000, about 22,000 migrants paid the ultimate price during their attempts to reach the old continent. Conspicuous is that 4000 people died since October, 2013; mainly during attempts to cross the Mediterranean sea.

Other dangerous locations for immigrants are the American-Mexican border, with almost 6000 casualties since 2000, and the Sahara with 3000 people found dead.

There you have it…

My old town Castricum has been totally wiped out – in sheer numbers of dead immigrants –since 2000. And on top of that, my old neighbourhood, the ‘Sea Heroes’ area (where all the streets have been named after sea heroes), and the Composers-area – which combinedly have approximately 4000 inhabitants – have both been wiped out since October, last year.

These are the number of casualties that you would expect in a small civil war, but without having one.

And we know that this will go on and on, as long as the European Union acts like “fortress Europe”: a European continent,  which tries to shut almost anybody out who comes to Europe without friends and family, but with either a strong determination to change his life for the better or in a desperate attempt to save his life in the first place.

Many people talk about criminals and ‘fortune seekers’, when they talk about migrants. Sometimes, these people genuinely fear that these migrants will start to behave like a kind of Trojan horse, when they are invited to live within our European borders.

And when you read the news about what is going on in the Middle East (Iraq and Syria) and some African countries in the first place, and think about the mounting tensions between groups of people at home, you can understand some of their statements, without necessarily sympathizing with them.

Many people are very scared for unrest and religious tensions at home and think that when they ‘just reject the world’s reality and substitute their own’, bad things won’t happen overhere, in our cocoon of false safety.

Still, these numbers of 40,000 dead migrants globally and 22,000 dead migrants on European shores, since the year 2000, are a number of shame.

When, between the two World Wars, the United States would have given the European emigrants and refugees for the Nazi violence an equally warm welcome, as we are giving the African and Middle-Eastern refugees today and when the number of perished Europeans would have reached 40,000 in those days, the world might have been another place. Luckily, the US generally didn’t…

Of course, I don’t know whether the European Union could handle mass migration of hundreds of thousands of people per year, without a certain amount of chaos and unrest in the various countries. Still, mass migration has happened at numerous occasions in the past. And in the end it made our countries and continent stronger, due to the influx of science & knowledge, art, craftsmanship and – very important – fresh blood and genes.

And of course, I don’t know either, how to convince desperate people to not step in their shaky, unseaworthy and dangerously overcrowded boats to make their suicide trip from Africa and Syria to Europe.  

However, I think that the European Union has the conscientious duty to look at the migration problem with a grand vision that exceeds the narrow-minded “Not In My BackYard” (NIMBY) view, which is so much in vogue at especially the Northern European countries currently.

With a mixed approach of prevention, common burden sharing and a larger absorption of refugees within the whole EU, we might indeed be able to mitigate this enormous problem of human suffering and death.

We cannot just leave the problems to Italy, Greece, Turkey and Spain with a scornful smile : “That’s your problem, guys and we are going to do jack sh*t about it, as your colleagues in the European Union”. 

It is time to show again, where Europe has been sometimes great in the past: offering a refuge for people who really need it.

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