FOCUS: Migrants: The New Wretched Of The Earth

Our world has been shaped by migration from time immemorial. People have been on the move on foot, horses, elephants, camels, bullock cawrts; by canoes, boats, motor vehicles, trains and
19 May 2015 08:38
FOCUS: Migrants: The New Wretched Of The Earth

Our world has been shaped by migration from time immemorial. People have been on the move on foot, horses, elephants, camels, bullock cawrts; by canoes, boats, motor vehicles, trains and planes. Soon many millionaires may be travelling by spaceships, if that brash British businessman Branson has his way.

Even Johnny Depp’s two puppies travel by a private jet, avoiding Aussie customs. Apparently the puppies have been deported. The final nail in the coffin of “stops the boats” or as one of our ministers put it graphically in Joycean idiom, “Send the buggers back.” Doubtless hurting the feelings of the two puppies.

In the past 500 odd years, especially since 1492, when the Jews were expelled from Catholic Spain and Columbus was discovering sea-routes to the New World, the contours of our planet were redrawn and the configurations of our sense of reality dramatically mapped. The world turned out to be round, not quite flat.

The Reality

The inescapable reality that confronts our world today is not terrorism—that’s bound to be defeated militarily—it IS the crisis of increasing numbers of stateless people seeking refuge. The current crisis in the Mediterranean and  the South-East Asian sea, where migrant boats are described, as “ floating coffins”, it baulks the imagination to think thousands of “migrants”, “refugees”, “asylum seekers” risking their and their children’s lives on broken and leaking boats.

The smugglers are fishing in the troubled waters of Bangladesh, Myanmar, Syria and Libya, not to mention Eritrea and Somalia, among several other failed states. Syria alone has four million refugees as a result of its civil strife. In Burma the Buddhists are killing Muslim Rohingyas; in Bangladesh Bengali ‘Muslims’ are persecuting ‘economic ‘Muslims’.

The moment you define this in “Muslim” terms, no further thought is necessary. That 95 per cent of all people killed in terrorists attacks and wars on terror ARE really Muslims gets lost in our ignorance and indifference. They are the one paying the heaviest price. The tragedy becomes endless and spirals beyond us. Or so it seems.

Hence we all take comfort in these misguided definitions—it makes it easier for us to accept the fate of these floating people. The turbulent seas have become the grave of thousands. The sea-pearls are made of eyes that were once human, as Shakespeare put in his aptly titled last play The Tempest.

This has become the new challenge for the richest nations of the earth. And yet if you analyse how Europeans sent their poor and wretched to many parts of the world, including Australasia, you get some idea of how we’ve peopled the countries through conquests, genocide, slavery, indenture, and the refugees of persecution from the so-called European civilisations that gave the world two world wars and two dropped nuclear bombs.

The ‘barbarians’, so to speak, are now at the gates of civilised societies—not with guns and cannons but with their children and paltry belongings, broken homes and hearts. Reliable reports inform us in stark figures that everyday hundreds of drowning migrants are rescued from the Mediterranean.

The Italians tried to be honourable but few others were prepared to assist in any significant or substantial ways. Last year they rescued 214,000 such migrants from the Mediterranean.

One report says: there has been a 50-fold increase in the deaths so far this year. In 2014 more than 3000 perished. `1500 have drowned so far this year and the summer in Europe—the season of migration—has yet to begin. The bureaucrats in Brussels have been described as “feckless, impotent and cynical” for lack of serious response to this most humanitarian crisis.

European Community is now made up of 28 independent nations. For 70 years it has kept its war- mongering tendencies under control despite Putin’s provocations. The wars are now fought outside “Our Sovereign Borders”—the safety and security of our citizens is paramount. And this, we’re told, when globalisation, free trade agreements, international  laws are on the move as imperialism was barely a century ago. We’ve Doctors sans Frontiers, Journalists without Borders, Politicians without Principles, Academics without Answers, etc, etc. But when it comes to the most vulnerable, the borders become most impenetrable.

The Challenge

The problems of these “migrants” is really a moral problem. The causes may be many and complex but the answers have to be human and compassionate. The daily pictures on our TV screens are shocking and challenge the very heart of our common humanity. The moral stature of a society is diminished by a child’s death on the high seas.

The numbers are staggering but when one considers the many- pronged attacks on terrorists, one wonders why our modern mind is not able to handle a most human problem on a war-footing. No segment of the globe knows more about migration, brutal and humane, than Western Europe. The UN Charter for Human Rights was fashioned out of the wreckage of the Second World War. ‘No More’, ‘Never Again’ became the watchwords for millions.

The world has been shaped by European migration over centuries and the civilised world is built on loots of various kinds. Now the step children have come home to roost from many plundered places.

It’s said that the West Indian migrants ran the London Underground when I was a student there in the early 1970s. Many thought the Underground was some radical, political organisation! It was also the PAKI-bashing season. But the doctors of the subcontinent serviced most healthily the National Health Service of Great Britain.

This is well-illustrated in an incident when I was there: At a doctor’s surgery potential patients are waiting patiently in their queue, mainly white English men and women. An Indian enters the out-patients’ room and marches straight towards the Doctor’s door. A rather large matron jumps up and, in her Yorkshire accent, tells the man: You wait here. Be in the queue —this no Pakistan? You understand me?

The bewildered man looks at her and says: Madam, me the doctor!

Today, David Cameron has announced that Britain will not take any refugees. And he has just won an election. How easily can a nation like Great Britain become Small England? With her culture and history, political enlightenment and experience, England should be leading other European countries in search and rescue.

No country knows more about Displaced Persons than the United Kingdom for the simple reason she has been complicit in many migrations—the largest being on the subcontinent.

The Indian Partition was doubtless the biggest and most brutal migration of people ever in world history. And it was done almost overnight. It’s a history that hurts and harrows the heart of more than a billion people. And it also haunts the London Underground from time to time.

After the Second World War, this month we’re commemorating its conclusion 70 years ago as VE Day, the Germans and the French recruited millions of men and women from Turkey, Algeria, the Middle East who wrought economic miracles for these war- ravaged nations.

Who’s to blame

Naturally today most of these “migrants” are keen to reap the harvest of prosperity and share the fruits with their relatives and family. The migrant has become a pawn on the chessboard of European national politics as in Australasia: “Immigration,” said a report recently, “is one of the most toxic and incendiary topics in the national politics of so many countries.”

But the real shame is the countries’ satanic leaders and political systems from which the migrants-refugees want to escape even at the risk of their lives. That their own make their life so desperate, so full of despair and hopelessness, that whole families take the risks of drowning in the insatiable waves is truly heartbreaking. The griefless sea, of course, receives everything; it rejects nothing. It’s a truly large cemetery.

The abuse of human rights, deprivation of citizenship because they belong to a different religion or ethnicity, the tyranny of the majority, are issues that should be integral to global consciousness and  each nation’s conscience.

Many years ago at USP, I used to give an essay to my students: Arthur Koestler’s ‘The Great Challenge’. Koestler, the Hungarian intellectual, who wrote that devastating book Darkness at Noon revealing the horrors of monstrous Josef Stalin that had so captivated so many rational intellectuals, wrote:

On the 18 of January 1912 Captain Scott and his four companions reached the South Pole, after a march of 69 days. On the return journey Petty Officer Evans fell ill, and became a burden to the party.

Either he carried the sick man along, slowed down the march and risked perdition for all; or he let Evans die alone in the wilderness and tried to save the rest. Scott took the first course; they dragged Evans along. He died. The delay proved fatal.

The blizzard overtook them. Oates too fell ill and sacrificed himself; their rations were exhausted; and the frozen bodies of the four men were found six months later only ten miles, or one day’s march from the next depot which they had been unable to reach, had they sacrificed Evans, they would probably have been saved.

This dilemma, which faced Scott under 80 degrees of latitude, symbolises the predicament of modern man, the tragic conflict inherent in his nature. It is the conflict between expediency and morality.

This conflict is at the root of our political and social crisis today. It contains in a nutshell the challenge of our contemporary world—especially in relation to refugees, migrants and asylum-seekers.

And nationals, who are often displaced from their natal landscapes in the name of progress and poverty alleviation, by conscienceless corporations. Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand have declined to accept the refugees fleeing terrible regimes in our region. Australia could have been a moral leader in this predicament. But it lost its moral authority more than a year ago.

It cannot now even criticise the inhumane policies of its neighbours who are turning the boats away from their shores with the tragic human cargoes.

It challenges the moral and ethical fabric of every society. And often this inescapable and ugly reality is perpetrated by one’s own people.

Twenty-eight years ago, on May 14 was Fiji’s first coup. Imagine if the colonel had won the war; it took a brave Commodore to provide corrective balance of dharma– that ethical ballast to the ship of state–in a small but modernising nation with a few big-hearted individuals.

There’s a moral somewhere there nearer home for most of us: ‘Objects in the rear-view mirror are not as far as they appear’, says the side mirror in my second-hand car.



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