I have just finished reading ‘Éxodo’, the testimonial of a woman who escaped Spain as Franco’s forces were approaching victory in the Spanish Civil War. A painful and emotional story of horrors, fear, exploitation, and poverty, it also shows the power of hope, love, and kindness, much like in the film ‘La vita é bella‘. After the dangerous journey towards France, exile was little better. Thousands of Spanish exiles were held in camps on beaches in southern France, closed in by barbed wire with little food, poor hygiene, and disease. Few could leave, and when jobs were offered as the Second World War approached, the refugees were treated effectively as slaves, earning in weeks what French workers would earn in a day. They were given little or no respect by the authorities and certainly no rights. One of the most shocking things about the whole ordeal was how young babies and children had to suffer in the harsh conditions of the camps.
The sad thing is that this could easily be the story of any refugee, past or present. The positive and negative aspects may appear in different proportions depending on the people and the countries concerned, though the positive, as in this story, is probably always outweighed by the struggles faced (both mental and physical). The great contradiction between optimism and desperation, compassion and abuse, and perseverance and nostalgia will be forever present in the stories of those forced to leave their homelands behind.
So when politicians, the media, or self-proclaimed racists attack migrants, it is important to stand up for the people who have left their countries as a result of the incredibly unjust and unequal global economic system in which we live. The overwhelming majority of these people have both hope and pain in their hearts. They are people who have often risked a whole lot to seek a better life. We can all learn a lot from them. Attacking them is a smokescreen to distract us from the real issue, which is the need to create a fairer and more equal world, without exploitation and without imperialism – which are linked inseparably to violence, oppression, and war (precisely the things people try to escape from).
Martin Luther King said that ‘non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good’. Applying his words to the rest of my comment, I think it is imperative that we refuse to collaborate with the politicians who offer no real alternative to the current system. At the same time, we need to put our money (and ‘time’) where our mouths are, and stand side by side with those seeking to do good in their communities and the world.