Euro­pean Union refugee cri­sis show­cases the tragedy of na­tion­al­ism

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - BY ASAD PABANI

Some­where, in be­tween all the pol­i­tics of the state, we have for­got­ten the one thing that binds us all to­gether – hu­man­ity.

Raed, a 30-year-old refugee from Syria, points to a bullet wound on his up­per left arm. “Daesh (Is­lamic State) is not good,” he says. “Shot fam­ily. Shot my un­cle. See a man — boom. See a woman — boom. See chil­dren — boom.”

Raed’s story, sadly, is not a unique one. More than 200,000 refugees have landed on Euro­pean shores in 2015 alone, flee­ing dev­as­ta­tion and death in their war-torn coun­tries.

At least 38 per­cent of them are from Syria, a coun­try torn apart by civil war.

The Syr­ian civil­ian pop­u­la­tion faces no easy choices, with gov­ern­ment bru­tal­ity on one side, and ji­hadist groups like Is­lamic State on the other.

In the face of such dire con­di­tions, Raed and thou­sands oth­ers made the ar­du­ous jour­ney to Europe in the hope of a bet­ter fu­ture.

Hayat As­rat, a 21-year-old fe­male refugee from Eritrea, lost her mother in the cross­ing to Europe — she drowned in the sea off Libya.

Another asy­lum seeker, a 34-yearold Syr­ian who pre­ferred to re­main un­named, floated in the open sea for 45 min­utes af­ter his small rub­ber dinghy punc­tured, be­fore he was fi­nally res­cued.

“If I live 200 years, I will never for- get it,” he said. “This is the first time in my life I felt I will die.”

Sur­vivors Are the Lucky Ones

Just last Satur­day, 40 mi­grants were found dead in a boat cross­ing the Mediter­ranean, hav­ing in­haled poi­sonous fumes.

Another 50 died the week be­fore af­ter their rub­ber dinghy sank. In 2015 alone, 2,300 peo­ple, flee­ing des­per­ate cir­cum­stances, have al­ready died try­ing to cross over to Europe.

But amidst such tremen­dous hu­man suf­fer­ing, sym­pa­thy for nonEuro­pean lives seems to be in short sup­ply these days.

In Calais, France, near the bor­der cross­ing to the United King­dom, over 3,000 asy­lum seek­ers take refuge in a camp where tear gas and beat­ings from the po­lice are com­mon, but showers and san­i­tary fa­cil­i­ties are in short sup­ply.

Fur­ther south, on the Greek is­land of Kos, around 2,500 mostly Syr­ian and Afghan refugees were locked into a sta­dium, with­out food or wa­ter, for over 18 hours in the pierc­ing heat. Refugees in­side the sta­dium fainted at the rate of four peo­ple an hour.

Even the lan­guage from some Euro­pean politi­cians in­di­cates an ut­ter lack of com­pas­sion.

Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron re­ferred to the asy­lum seek­ers as a “swarm,” a term more regularly used for par­a­sitic bugs, while his for­eign sec­re­tary, Philip Ham­mond, termed them “ma­raud­ing mi­grants” from Africa whom the UK needed to pro­tect it­self against.

While some other EU coun­tries have been far more ac­cept­ing of refugees, the gen­eral in­dif­fer­ence over non-Euro­pean lives and the sup­port for na­tion­al­is­tic move­ments has rapidly man­i­fested it­self in most Euro­pean coun­tries over the past few years.

In the UK, the UK In­de­pen­dence Party (UKIP) won the third most num­ber of votes in the past gen­eral elec­tion by fo­cus­ing on im­mi­grants’ sup­pos­edly com­ing in and steal­ing wel­fare pay­ments.

In France, the Front Na­tional (FN) has risen in pop­u­lar­ity due to its anti-immigration stances. Even the tra­di­tion­ally tol­er­ant and lib­eral Nordic democ­ra­cies have shifted to the right.

Both Den­mark and Swe­den re­cently voted par­ties into power that cam­paigned on the plat­form of lim­it­ing immigration and the re­turn to the “good old days” — when only Nordic peo­ple lived in their coun­tries, of course.

More than Europe

Na­tion­al­ism, it seems, has the abil­ity to unite coun­tries, but also cre­ate di­vi­sions be­tween a com­mon hu­man­ity. And un­for­tu­nately, Europe is not the only place suf­fer­ing from this prob­lem. Across the At­lantic, Don­ald Trump has drawn plenty of con­dem­na­tion for call­ing those flee­ing poverty and war, “crim­i­nals” and “rapists.”

But at the same time, he has soared in pop­u­lar­ity on the back of those com­ments, with many Amer­i­cans con­sid­er­ing him the true pro­tec­tor of Amer­i­can val­ues and the Amer­i­can peo­ple.

Mov­ing fur­ther east to the refugee sit­u­a­tion in our very own coun­try, Pak­istan, also il­lus­trates par­al­lels with the rhetoric and prej­u­dice used to taint for­eign na­tion­als in other parts of the world.

Just a lit­tle over a month ago, the CDA Is­lam­abad razed the homes of over 30,000 peo­ple based in a slum in sec­tor I-11, dubbed Afghan Basti, be­cause it claimed that they were illegal.

And that there could be “ter­ror­ists” hid­ing amongst the Afghans and Pak­thuns liv­ing in the set­tle­ment.

A few months be­fore that, in the wake of the APS at­tack in Peshawar, author­i­ties went door-to-door in var­i­ous set­tle­ments, ap­par­ently telling Afghan na­tion­als to go back to where they came from.

Such sto­ries of anti-Afghan sen­ti­ment are not un­com­mon in Pak­istan, where Afghan refugees of­ten com­plain about fac­ing in­tim­i­da­tion and ha­rass­ment be­cause they are viewed with sus­pi­cion.

In re­al­ity, they are a largely peace­ful peo­ple be­ing de­mo­nized be­cause of the ac­tions of a few; the irony is ap­par­ently lost on Pak­ista­nis who un­fairly face sim­i­lar la­bels abroad.

Sadly, all of us are com­plicit in this to a cer­tain de­gree. When our politi­cians roar about cer­tain poli­cies be­ing best for “our coun­try and our peo­ple,” we all cheer our ap­proval with­out ever re­ally paus­ing to ask our­selves — what is it that makes us pri­or­i­tize the lives of those around us more than oth­ers?

Why do we care more about those peo­ple who live in a so­cially con­structed bound­ary around us? Af­ter all, we are but mere ac­ci­dents of birth.

A Euro­pean born a few hun­dred kilo­me­ters fur­ther south could have been a Libyan try­ing to cross the Mediter­ranean for a bet­ter life.

A Pak­istani born a few hun­dred kilo­me­ters to the west could have been a poor Afghan refugee try­ing to make a liv­ing in a slum in Is­lam­abad. In such a case, would we then ap­pre­ci­ate the same na­tion­al­is­tic rhetoric of our politi­cians?

Over the last cen­tury or so, fun­da­men­tal hu­man rights have been ad­vanced sig­nif­i­cantly in most parts of the world.

Many have be­gun to rec­og­nize that ac­ci­dents of birth should not de­ter­mine one’s en­tire life tra­jec­tory; that caste, color, creed, sex, and sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, should not be grounds to dis­crim­i­nate against peo­ple.

Yet, when it comes to na­tion­al­ity, our minds hit a stum­bling block.

The na­tion-state, it seems, is still some­thing we refuse to see as dis­crim­i­na­tory; some­thing that per­pet­u­ates the self ver­sus other bi­nary, de­feat­ing the com­mon bond of our hu­man­ity.

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