Do you know that sappy Dutch song, “Iedereen is van de wereld, en de wereld is van iedereen”? Well, it seems that this only holds when you have money and can freely travel and move around the world. As soon as you lose everything and have to leave your country – say due to violence, extreme poverty, climate change, or abuse – you get the label asylum seeker and receive little help. Right now, there are more than 80 million displaced people globally. I will repeat that for the people in the back: 80 million people, that is 4.7 times the entire Dutch population running for their lives. And only because some men came up with the concept of country borders (x) years ago. I would like to propose the idea that the world belongs to everyone, regardless of where you were (randomly) born.
Let me hit you with another statistic: 40.000 people have died trying to cross international borders in the past decade (half of those deaths occurred along the shores of tolerant and unified Europe). The problem is that these deaths are not the exception, but rather the rule, caused by governments trying to control access to resources and opportunities. To me it is very striking that in a time of globalization, there is a countermovement that increasingly limits free global movement for certain groups of people. As Reece Jones puts it in his book ‘Violent Borders’; “While the poor are restricted by the lottery of birth in slums and the aftershocks of decolonization, the wealthy travel freely, exploiting pools of cheap labour and lax environmental regulations”. Like I said, the world only belongs to the wealthy few that happened to be born in the right location.
Then there is this weird idea that refugees come to ‘our’ countries to steal our jobs or profit from the welfare system. Trust me Karen, these people (because, why yes, they are human!) are not travelling halfway across continents on foot, dragging their families and meager belongings, to steal your job. “But they have iPhones!” Tell me that you will leave your smartphone behind when your home is burning and then come back to talk to me again. Also, why is asylum seeker (or asielzoeker in Dutch) such a dirty word? These are humans seeking asylum, seeking help and a chance to live a normal life again, and we – people in richer countries – act like they purposefully brought misfortune to our doorsteps.
What angers me most about the refugee crisis is the diffusion of responsibility and the lack of compassion countries are showing. If you want to be shocked, have a look into the conditions of refugee camps in southern Europe. These are human people with hopes and dreams and fears and RIGHTS. The right to live (a decent and comfortable life), the right to healthcare, the right to education. The right to be heard and seen. The Netherlands might not be directly involved in the setting up of these camps, but the government sure as hell is not trying to alleviate any of the struggles faced by refugees. We stand aside while boats are sent back, or even worse, sink in the Mediterranean Sea. At the same time, children who have been living in the country for up to ten years are being sent ‘home’ to the country their parents were born in, because the government can’t work fast enough to send them away before they have been fully integrated.
I said it in my last article; but none of us are free until all of us are free. So long as refugees are still being locked up in camps (I mean, literally surrounded by walls and barbed wire), we can preach about humanity and equal opportunities all we want, but we should actually make an effort to bring others up with us. If this article inspired you in any way or made you feel even a sliver of empathy for human beings in less fortunate (and horrific) circumstances, please check out the resources mentioned below. Perhaps your contribution from Ome Duo is not big enough to donate money, but time and energy are also very valuable resources!
Want to do something for refugees in Eindhoven? Check out www.vluchtelingenwerk.nl to apply for various volunteering jobs such as teaching Dutch. Additionally, there are about 300 undocumented people living in Eindhoven alone. The ‘huiskamer voor vluchtelingen’ provides them with a place to spend the day, a warm meal, and opportunities to stay active (www.huiskamervoorvluchtelingen.nl).
Want to read (non-)fiction from the perspective of refugees? Check out American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins, Voices of the Lost by Hoda Barakat, and Violent Borders by Reece Jones.
Not much of a reader? Make sure to follow @chooselove on Instagram, they are a British charity that share a weekly global refugee update with the most important news items concerning refugee issues. Also, they have a shop in which you can buy lifesaving or enriching items for refugees such as a life jacket or an educational kit.