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This is one of the powerful statements made by Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Union President, in his State of the Union speech of yesterday.
Politicians’ speeches do not reach me often because they are mostly meaningless and lack authenticity. This one though, was objective, factual and heartening, and I felt it genuine. Particularly the words used to discuss the current refugee crisis, are certainly calling the European leaders and citizens, to look at themselves in the mirror, and hopefully, restore their memory, and their humanity.
I am not an European citizen by birth. I didn’t arrive here as a refugee. I didn’t leave my birth country as an economic migrant. I love my country and what brought me here was my adventurous spirit who made me accept a corporate expat assignment from my Swiss employer.
I have lived abroad since 1994. I moved from Brazil to Switzerland, then to the USA and finally to The Netherlands, always due to my corporate job. I made friends, I integrated, I learned the local languages. No one has ever asked my religion or beliefs. No one has ever asked about my family background and upbringing before accepting me as ‘one of them’. Because that is how I feel.
No one rejected me in the Old Continent because I settled here, and never returned to my country. I was never told I took a job from an European citizen. I surely did.
Is the acceptance stemming from the fact that I migrated as a tax payer and not depending on the State’s welfare? This obviously plays a role in people’s mindsets and attitudes towards people like me. But this is not all. There are many fears at play, which are driving the opposition and negative reactions.
Apart from extremists neo-nazis, racists and religious fundamentalists, which are a class of people I abstain from understanding their motives, there are other people who oppose the arrival of refugees because Europe has changed their lives for the worse, since the start of the Economic and Financial Crisis. There is poverty, homelessness, joblessness, despite the existence of a generous social policy.
There are also differences among the countries in the European Unions. They are all equals when belonging to the European Union, but some countries are more equal than others, as they are more mature and developed from an economical, social and financial standpoint.
This is a very complex issue and I won’t try to simplify it with emotional statements. This is a time to have a cool head and take distance from heated discussions. The best way is to try to be better informed about World’s history and events before voicing an opinion about them. And I am not saying that we get informed by reading personal opinions on the internet. We need to read books, if we have time, or credible papers.
How about starting to learn about European history and its waves of migration, which formed nations like Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, US, South Africa, etc. If we are really honest, we know that Europeans migrants have displaced the ‘locals’…
I will share with you a very important part of Jean-Claude Juncker’s speech, which brings us to become aware of the need for historic fairness.
“We Europeans should remember well that Europe is a continent where nearly everyone has at one time been a refugee. Our common history is marked by millions of Europeans fleeing from religious or political persecution, from war, dictatorship, or oppression.
Huguenots fleeing from France in the 17th century.
Jews, Sinti, Roma and many others fleeing from Germany during the Nazi horror of the 1930s and 1940s.
Spanish republicans fleeing to refugee camps in southern France at the end of the 1930s after their defeat in the Civil War.
Hungarian revolutionaries fleeing to Austria after their uprising against communist rule was oppressed by Soviet tanks in 1956.
Czech and Slovak citizens seeking exile in other European countries after the oppression of the Prague Spring in 1968.
Hundreds and thousands were forced to flee from their homes after the Yugoslav wars.
Have we forgotten that there is a reason there are more McDonalds living in the U.S. than there are in Scotland? That there is a reason the number of O’Neills and Murphys in the U.S. exceeds by far those living in Ireland?
Have we forgotten that 20 million people of Polish ancestry live outside Poland, as a result of political and economic emigration after the many border shifts, forced expulsions and resettlement during Poland’s often painful history?
Have we really forgotten that after the devastation of the Second World War, 60 million people were refugees in Europe? That as a result of this terrible European experience, a global protection regime – the 1951 Geneva Convention on the status of refugees – was established to grant refuge to those who jumped the walls in Europe to escape from war and totalitarian oppression?”
What is happening in the Middle East, already for many years, has created lasting consequences, which are shaping one of the largest humanitarian disasters since WWII. Can we ignore it and just turn our face to the other side? Of course we can. Will that make the problem disappear? Nope.
Do you know that nearly 500,000 people have made their way to Europe this year? Do you know that the majority of them are fleeing from war in Syria, the terror of the Islamic State in Libya or dictatorship in Eritrea?
Would you still say that this “illegal” people are coming here just for the fun of taking your job and enjoy your social benefits? Would you ever travel with the help of smugglers, who are selling “first class” tickets in dinghies to cross the sea, for a journey which ends not at the destination, but as a one-way ticket to death? Have you ever thought that what drives people in war-torn countries, is their will to live and protect their families?
I will share again some words of Jean-Claude Juncker:
“Yet, in spite of our fragility, our self-perceived weaknesses, today it is Europe that is sought as a place of refuge and exile. It is Europe today that represents a beacon of hope, a haven of stability in the eyes of women and men in the Middle East and in Africa.
That is something to be proud of and not something to fear.”
Let’s conquer our fears and just remember that we are all humans. This is a crisis that asks us to show humanity and compassion. Giving refuge is an obligation to comply with the fundamental right to asylum.
I truly hope that Europeans look at the refugees in the same way they looked at me when I arrived here. Like a human being…and as one of them.
Who could better put humanity into perspective than Carl Sagan’s speech at Pale Blue Dot’s video?
“The distant image of our tiny world, underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the only home we have ever known: The Pale Blue Dot.”
This post goes to Colleen’s Writer’s Quote Wednesday!