Locked-In and Locked-Out. Europes Humanitarian/Migration Crisis


I’ve written quite a lot on the subject of migration but now I find it difficult to put pen to paper. The events in Europe at present are beyond what words can capture.  Writing feels like self-indulgence when more is needed.

To be honest writing and speaking on the subject of migration in Ireland falls mostly on deaf ears unless of course it is about tragedy that befalls Irish people abroad or the subject matter revolves around the plight of groups of Irish emigrants who are suffering under the weight of a seeming injustice abroad. I am often perturbed that a country like Ireland with such a tragic history of emigration cannot draw the parallels with contemporary European migration. The simple wish to live in place where one can find safety, security, even happiness is the key to every migratory journey whether that is a journey out of Europe or a journey into Europe.

A recent program on RTE on the subject of return emigration reported on people struggling with the question of returning to Ireland to live. The burning issues for them was whether they could have the same standard of living as they currently had in the UK. Their future depended on choices of restaurants, quality of housing and a general ‘above average’ standard of living.  People have a right to a life and an appropriate standard of living but those who cross into Europe just want to ‘live’ and sometimes the crossing takes away the very breath from their body that  gives them life.

I once got locked into a wardrobe when I was a child. I can remember the fear that took hold of me when in one irrational instant I thought that I’d be there for ever. The door had closed behind me and locked itself and there was no one around to hear my cries. Eventually, after what was only a few seconds, I managed to kick the door open but for me, as a young child, those seconds were akin to an eternity. I was uncontrollable when I found my mother and sobbed deeply into her belly.

This memory filled my being when I read about the plight of the people whose badly decomposed remains were found on a truck in Austria. A local newspaper reported that ‘the lorry’s lining was ripped from the inside suggesting the victims had tried to escape the truck before suffocating’ FT 28/8/15. On the same day two boats sank in the Mediterranean. One had fifty passengers, the other had four hundred. Over half have died. The words of Pope Francis ring through yet again. From the perspective of our globalising world he said that migrants have to be more than just pawns on the chessboard of humanity.

Our history should bring us closer to the struggle of these people and not just at the level of a warm fuzzy empathetic feeling but a desire to change things for them. In a short book entitled Nana the author recounts the story of her Irish nurse who travelled from Ireland after the famine and was employed by her family. As a young girl the author was enthralled by the adventure filled stories of the Atlantic crossing that her Nana related to her.

‘When you were in steerage you were expected to have everything with you, like a soldier going to war. But we didn’t know that, and, anyway, we didn’t have anything, nor any money to buy anything. We put our little bundles of our best clothes in our bunks and put them under our heads for a pillow and we never undressed at all….Were there any port-holes or windows, Nana?…No, and it was so terribly dark’.[1]

It is but a sliver of time that separates our reality from the reality of those who migrate into Europe today but it is an expanse of privilege and politics that separates us from their need and their plight.

I have to admire Angela Merkel and her country for their decision to take in so many migrants. Whether their motivation is to replace the falling birth-rate or whether it is to set themselves up as leaders in the modern world I can’t know but they are to be admired. Maybe people like Angela Merkel are influenced by their memory of time spent in East Germany when life was limited and political freedom was but a dream.

Ireland is an embarrassment at the moment. We are couching behind political correctness to an alarming extent. I feel grossly unrepresented and unspoken for. In short  e are leaderless.  A country that once prided itself as central to human rights campaigning no longer knows right from wrong. Weaving between Schengen Area diplomacy and the Common Travel Area with Britain, Ireland acts like a lost child. The fear of rocking the diplomatic boat and the on-going political positioning is evidence of a nation that has lost its moral compass. The present tactic of acting incrementally in step by step diplomacy bears sad tidings for those whose boats fall apart and who do not die ‘incrementally’. It’s time for Ireland to act unilaterally using its history and isolation to make a difference. This last year in Ireland many a long day and night was spent arguing and canvassing for equality. Let us remember that the original rainbow was a sign to people that is was safe to leave their boat and step onto dry land.

It is also time to call Europe to task over its interests in countries that are countries of origin for many migrants. Countries where business and trade interests are supporting despotic overlords. Aid should longer be about easing our conscience but it should relate directly to the security and stability of the citizens of the receiving countries, especially the poorest. Like the recent purge of the Vatican Bank the aid budgets should be purged by Europe and aid should relate to a wide range of indicators. As David Brooks of the New York Times said;

’you can cram all the non-governmental organisations you want into a country; but if there is no rule of law and if the ruling class is predatory then your achievements won’t add up to much…in short, there’s only so much good you can do unless you are willing to confront corruption, venality and disorder head-on[2]

It’s absurd to think that our aid is encouraging migration but in certain instances it is. While aid may claim to improve the living conditions of people in various countries, efforts to transform the criminal justice systems and to address political corruption to protect the poor from violence and vicious predators has largely failed. It is a fact that most of world’s best police forces were once plagued by corruption until they were challenged and rebranded. Furthermore businesses that act with impunity in counties should also be taken to task by European countries that have stricter regularity regimes.  Ethics in business should be globalised; it should not vary depending on what one can get away with. There is need for a common European voice on these matters.

Mainstream political parties say they are fearful of a growth in right wing parties due to immigration into Europe. This language permits an anti-immigrant rhetoric. Nowhere in Europe in recent times has the rise of the right influenced major political decisions.  This fear has only nudged middle ground parties from their centrist outlook and wetted the pages of newspapers. If any wing of politics is losing out it’s the left as it was once called. Lost of all economic ideology and with a distinct inability to confront the excesses of present economic models the left now finds its purpose in a cosy liberalism that has little to do with those who are disenfranchised in their own jurisdictions never mind in other parts of the world. The divergence in local politics now reflects our global divergence which is that of a liberal elite and your ordinary Joe Soap.

As for the Church, it’s time that it became even more unpopular. Ireland sees the Church running at an all-time low with vocations bottoming out and attendances at Church settling at historically low practise rates. The fallout from sex abuse scandals and a growing secularism has had its impact but nothing can account for the mediocre Church that has been brought to attention by the bright lights of Pope Francis’ simplicity and forthrightness.Surely the role of sound doctrine and good liturgy is to inspire the Christian/Catholic Community to make a difference? Is not the mission of the Church to transcend tribal identities and unite all the baptised within the promise of the Kingdom? Why can’t the Church now become infinitely more unpopular by transcending the polite politics of our nation state? Why can’t the Church, like Churches in other countries become the main agent for the resettlement of refugees and asylum seekers? Why can’t every parish in Ireland volunteer to take a family from Syria, Afganistan or Eritrea – again not just to ease the consciences of the parishioners or to feed a feel good factor but to educate the local community as to why migrants are forced to leave in the first place. Someone has to present those who migrate as human beings who are educated, professional and gifted and who love and cherish their families.

Is it not time to turn on the pressure on our elected representatives some of whom represent us in Europe to stand up for what we believe? Do we need to be continuously reminded that the subsidy for every cow in Europe amounts to the per capita annual income of many millions of people in Africa? Or are our cows so sacred that these facts don’t matter.

I was wondering how to conclude when I was present at a funeral where a man spoke. His young son had died tragically, taken before his time. He thanked God that in the midst of the tragedy he felt he lived in a Christian community, a community who rallied and supported. He asked us to pray for those who have no such community to offer support and comfort and he asked us to especially remember those who were crossing the Mediterranean. It’s strange that one in the midst of grief can think of others and others in the midst of plenty are devoid of ideas.

[1] Harriet Ide Keen Roberts, (1936) Nana A Memory of and Old Nurse, London: Gill and MacMillan & Co. Ltd.

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/13/opinion/brooks-sam-spade-at-starbucks.html?_r=0 [accessed 28th August 2015]

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