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Refugees And The Long Walk

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“Behind carts, in front of horses, on foot, in railway cars planes, and ships./Blended in a line of images, we have strolled and limped across the countries and surfaces of a planet./ Whims and fashion, empiric caprice; not God, not fate, are what keep us moving until there is nowhere left./ Borders open to let us out, or shut to keep us in./Doors slam in our faces, and open swinging towards us.”

I wrote those lines as part of a much larger poem quite a number of years ago. It was inspired by a number of things, but largely from the frustration of seeing how little things have changed in thousands of years of human existence. You see it was the early nineties and the ethnic murders in the former Yugoslavia were in full swing.

Don’t look for me to ever use the term “ethnic cleansing”. It sounds too much like everybody getting together to do laundry to convey the horror of what happened in places like Rwanda and the Balkans in the 1990’s and earlier. Who ever decided to popularize the term should be tied to stake and bombarded with thesauruses until he or she gains a measure of sense and respect for the English language.

When would we ever learn? Before Bosnia and the rest of the Balkans went up in smoke, you’d think the world had enough examples of racial and ethnic murders, from this century alone, to maybe grow up a little? No, once again we have to prove, that as a species we have cornered the market on xenophobia (that does not mean you are scared of warrior priestesses by the way) “Hey what’s that?” “I don’t know” “Better kill it than”

If it’s not like me or I don’t understand it, there is no room for it in my world. The easiest way for people to deal with issues that confuse them, are to get rid of them. Or if you can’t get rid of an issue, find someone, or a group of someones, who you can blame it on. Then you can get rid of them.

What’s even better is by the time everybody’s done with the murder and mayhem; they’ll have forgotten what the issue was that got them so upset in the first place. It will look like the problem has been solved. Too many people in this world think diversity is the choice of sauces that comes with their chicken MacNuggets.

The stream of refugees doesn’t seem to ever end. I have a memory of an image from a childhood viewing of the movie Fiddler On The Roof that has stayed with me all of my life. It’s the end of the movie and the whole village is moving out, headed to America or Canada. Families are trudging along together, carrying what they can on their backs and in their arms, while some are pulling carts laden with the rest of their possessions.

How often is that scene still being repeated on a daily basis somewhere in our world? Well the deserts of the Sub Sahara are now the hot spot for people seeking escape from the economic disintegration of Africa. The Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Mellila have seen desperate people charging their borders of razor wire this past week in an attempt to begin the process of gaining admission to Europe.

Mirroring North American attitudes to illegal Mexican migration, the governments of the European Union’s response has been to toughen it’s repatriation laws, allowing member states to deport people en masse back to their countries of origin. Borders are closing as fast as the minds who govern within them.

The beginning of the twentieth century saw a mass exodus of eastern Europeans fleeing starvation and persecution. These people walked across chunks of Europe attempting to reach a port town where they could gain passage on a ship heading to America or Canada. One hundred years latter people are walking across the deserts of Africa looking to do something similar.

But now nobody wants them. They’re either being shipped back to where they come from, picked up by the Moroccan army and dumped in the desert, or being held on masse in detention camps awaiting their fates. What fate awaits them if they are shipped home? Will they simply do world leaders a favour and die, dreams unfulfilled and hopes destroyed? Or will they become the next wave of terrorists controlled by the first manic able to whip their frustration into anger at the developed world?

In the days leading up to World War Two Jews were scrambling to find any country willing to take them as they attempted to flee Nazi persecution. Neither Canada nor the United States was willing to take on any more refugees. How many people perished because of that decision?

Less then sixty years latter we are once again refusing people admittance. Have we learned nothing from recent history? What makes us so special that we are given the power to relegate thousands of people to the scrap heap? What gives us the right?

Somewhere in the world today there is a person walking along a road with all his processions on his back. Whatever it is that he is leaving behind is so bad that he is willing to risk a journey of thousands of miles that doesn’t offer any guarantee of success at the end of the line. If he is willing to take that kind of risk, isn’t it only fair for of us to take a chance on him?

With the way economic conditions are getting worse, and unrest continuing to grow apace with it, the seeds are being sown for another bout of ethnic warfare. Perhaps we could take a preventative role this time, instead of just being around after the fact to count the bodies and mop up the blood.

On the dock, on the platform/In the terminal station/stands one with a ticket,/waiting to be plucked from the baggage carousel./Plucked from a mother’s birthing arms by tribal hatreds that do not heed a child’s tears./The barbed wire runs behind and beyond./It climbs like someone told me roses climb trestles,/like corn grows in a field.

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.
  • Dr. Kurt

    Thank you, gypsyman, for putting things in perspective! Perhaps I can stop feeling sorry for myself & do something useful.
    You got me wondering: will we, as a nation and as a species, ever begin to treat humans properly until we begin to treat other animals with respect? Sociopathy generally starts with animal abuse… can I continue to decry genocide while paying for slaughterhouses? I’m not trying to create a distraction; you just got me all Ghandi-ish here.
    Meanwhile, I guess I’ll keep reading the news and eating steak.

  • Les Slater

    > With the way economic conditions are getting worse, and unrest continuing to grow apace with it, the seeds are being sown for another bout of ethnic warfare.

    Don’t be so pessimistic. There are other seeds growing.

    The problem is that the imperialist countries can’t maintain their economies without massive plunder of the third world. They have set up nation states where minorities rule. This divides the population and helps with the exploitation. The U.S. and others would like to maintain these tension, but not to the point of too much instability. It always needs a nominally compliant stable government.

    That’s why the wars of late.

    But there are signs of successful resistance. Cuba is the most notable example in the Western Hemisphere. It not only survives but also makes progress. We can add, to a lesser extent, Venezuela. Many other countries in Latin America are emboldened to resist, and resist they have.

    Donald Rumsfeld concluded a recent tour and found not all is going so well as it used to. They now take Venezuela seriously.

    This is not leading ethnic war but national liberation and class war.

  • Refugee Reality
    Judith M. Hansel
    Reno, NV

    Katrina produced refugees. Some commentators find the word “refugee” distasteful and insist on “evacuee” instead. Webster states that a refugee is anyone who flees a life-threatening situation such as war, famine, flood, hurricane or other natural disasters and who then seeks safety in another community.

    In 1951, the United Nations enacted the Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees partly in response to the refugee problems created by World War II. The Convention describes a refugee as anyone who flees persecution because of his ethnic, religious or racial identity or because of persecution for his political opinion. Anyone who seeks asylum in countries that have signed the Convention is labeled a “Convention Refugee claimant.”

    When a refugee arrives in a foreign country, there is no guarantee that she will find safety or how long protection may or may not be provided. Refugees flee with their lives and, if they are lucky, a few documents that prove their identity. Every refugee is thrust into an unknown society where a different culture, language and climate exists.

    The UN Convention delineates rules for determining who is and who is not a valid refugee. Countries that have signed the Convention have bureaucracies in place to process people who claim to be refugees. Often these countries also have their own immigration rules and regulations. Ideally, this system is just and does not rely on propaganda issued by the refugee claimant’s home country to determine the validity of the refugee’s claim.

    Unfortunately, this system does not work if you happen to be a United States citizen who has been persecuted for one of the reasons listed in the Convention and who can prove the persecution with documentation. Citizens of the United States are put through the bureaucratic process and accorded hearings that seem to be run in a fair manner. Fair, that is, until a decision based on lies is issued and a quick trip in handcuffs back to the United States is arranged. Often the time spent waiting to be deported is in a jail.

    From 1989 to 1994, forty-five US citizens claimed Refugee Status in Canada. None were granted that status and all were ordered to leave Canada. The more intransigent, such as me, were deported.

    U.S. citizens seeking refuge in European countries are also treated in a cavalier manner. One U.S. citizen was recently ordered to leave Norway after she spent 16 months seeking political asylum. A married couple, both U.S. citizens, left Canada upon orders from that government and are now bouncing from country to country in Europe, homeless and stateless. These are Americans whose civil and political rights are supposed to be protected by the U.S. Constitution and government, but who are, instead, running in fear from it.

    Since the 1951 Convention, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees has devised an alternate form of supposed safety for refugees called “internal flight.” In this scenario, persons are advised to not return to the region of their country where the alleged persecution took place, but to live in another part of the country which is why I live in Nevada and not Wisconsin. This is a ludicrous policy since the long arm of the government of any country reaches everywhere.

    In retrospect, it appears that the U.N. 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees was enacted to give protection to people fleeing Communism. No one, it seems, deemed it possible that citizens of the West might need protection. With the demise of the Communist States, the U.N. now plans to return refugees to their countries of origin as soon as practicable in order to reduce the impacts the refugees have on receiving countries. In other words, with Communist dictators gone from the scene, refugee protection is no longer needed.

    The most alarming fact about the U.N. Convention is that it contains no enforcement provisions. Individual governments can decide whether or not a Convention Refugee claimant meets the requirements set forth in the Convention and in its own immigration law. Convention Refugee claimants who are U.S. citizens are regularly denied Refugee Status based on political considerations rather than on the unbiased merits of the case.
    Denial of Refugee Status by a government’s bureaucracy can be appealed through that government’s legal system, but this is an expensive and lengthy process. Higher courts can simply refuse to hear a case with no reason given. Although the United Nations can declare a person or a group a Convention Refugee, it has never done so for any American.

    The media, either by design or ignorance, does not inform the public of these facts. While corporate media heads are lodged in the sand, (or ordered to keep quiet), those of us who flee persecution are left in limbo. Under international law every government is required to legally repatriate returned refugee claimants. The U.S. government just pretends that we do not exist. Repatriation can be accomplished by the returned refugee herself if she has a permanent address, pays taxes and/or votes. No government involvement is required. Since November 25, 1998, I have paid no federal or state income taxes, do not vote and do not have a permanent address. This has not been easy to do, however being a sovereign nation of one has its own reward—absolute freedom.

    Despite the propaganda spewing out of Washington, citizens of the United States have a right to know that some of their fellow citizens are fleeing the United States in fear of losing their lives or their liberty and are seeking asylum in other countries.

  • Anonymous

    Welcome to the community of refugees. There are more of us out here than you might imagine.