Do you believe in coincidences? I don’t know if I do or don’t, but if I did, today was a day full of them! So much so, it got me thinking that I really had to write this post about something which is so important to me that it’s actually surprising I didn’t write about it earlier…
I’m talking about refugees, asylum seekers, immigration and that horrid, horrid scourge – racism.
Coincidence number 1: I started my day at 05h30 learning about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, an exemplary individual who fought Nazism and Hitler in Germany and who was executed for this today, 70 years ago. He was one year younger than me.
Coincidence number 2: my colleague, one of Malta’s top crusaders in the field of migration and journalism, posted a link to this article on MOAS. It’s a must read. I’ve been involved in the field of immigration for many years now, and still, this article was so moving, so apt, so poignant, so full of hope and desperate at the same time. Just imagine all those immigrants dying at Europe’s borders, how must they feel?
Coincidence number 3: no need to imagine it, listen here. It is frightening, at the very least. It is numbing, surreal, and to use an Italian word, leaves one with a feeling of sgomento (roughly translates to dismay, but is more belly-aching than that).
There is no politics in people drowning at sea.
Coincidence number 4: Something personal happened which got me thinking back to my roots, to my beginnings in this world of immigration. And I’d like to share that, here and now.
It all started back in 1999 when, as a young student living in Turin, Italy, and coming from a country which was (back then) outside the EU, I was obliged to apply for a resident’s permit on a yearly basis. My slot was together with persons referred to as third-country nationals. And so it was that I would queue up alongside Sub-Saharan Africans, Asians, persons from the Middle-East and so forth.
And yet, the difference with which I was treated by the onsite staff (mostly police forces) was remarkable and embarrassing. They saw me as ‘one of them’, and not ‘the other’. I was frequently invited to skip the queue (something I obviously never did) and even asked with a look of surprise, “signorina, ma Lei cosa ci fa, qua?!” (What are you doing here, young lady?).
I still remember a particularly nasty incident which involved a Carabiniere of the worst sort, those who feel they must lord it over all and sundry, milking every last inch of power out of their position and uniform, while behaving as you imagine a robot would. Well, this fine specimen of a human being was being nasty to everyone who came into contact with him. This was at the time of the new law pushed through by the wonder that is Lega Nord, which meant that we all had to have our finger prints taken upon renewal of this permit. And it wasn’t just the tips of the fingers, oh no, they ran the roller sopping with ink over the whole palm, both of them. (It took around 15 minutes of hard scrubbing to get it off). Anyway, when he got to my surname, he began to growl it out as he had all the others, only to suddenly pause, clearly surprised, change his tone to a soft and inviting one and even venture a smile. Why? Because I have a German surname, and I’m ‘white’. Couple all this with the place where we had to queue up – an abandoned palazzetto dello sport (a closed sports arena), with holes in the rafters, pigeons flying overhead inside, and, I kid you not, a cow and donkey braying from behind one of the stalls.
And I had it good. I was not fleeing a country I couldn’t return to, whether due to war, famine or persecution. I was simply a young student enjoying her life in Italy.
This experience changed my life and spurred me to look for work in the immigration sector, and this is how I came to be the Media & Project Coordinator for JRS Malta.
Coincidence number 5: today was the day of reflection from this and reflect I did, but about something completely different!
I don’t know how tonight’s story is going to end. I wonder if those at sea will all be saved, and at what cost? I cannot understand how we can talk about a globalised world when it comes to things that suit us (read: make money), but fail to take it into consideration completely when it comes to matters like human rights. In my way of seeing things, it really does not make sense to speak of nationalities anymore, of territories, of borders. Clearly, I am not advocating for a state of anarchy. But surely, some middle way can be found. More importantly, isn’t it at least time that we begin to talk about it? We are, I fear, missing the wood for the trees here.
And while we do that, people are dying.