“I must be gone and live, or stay and die.”
Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, Act 3, Scene 5
Many people fleeing Africa, the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan and who knows what other land must have thought something like this the day they decided to leave their land. Or at least I guess so. Others may have not been in danger of death, but “just” refused to stay and obey. Recently, I’ve had the privilege of meeting thousands of people who had taken these decisions. From each and every one of them I’ve learnt more than I had ever had before from any other person in the civilizing North of the world.
Sofia is an enigmatic city somewhere in between the North and the South of our world, if this distinction can still help distinguish between oppressing and oppressed countries. Probably it cannot, if we consider the multiple forms that oppression assumes nowadays, with the oppressors being, among others: governments, companies, religious institutions, social conventions and – let’s be honest! – ourselves. In Sofia, this city somewhere on the way that many people were forced to take to reach the North, I have happened to spend the last ten months of my life. I came from the North to see with my own eyes what was going on in this part of the world, with the aim of sharing my time, “knowledge”, feelings and jokes with human beings who never asked to share the same with me. However, many of them eventually did, and for this I’ll be grateful to them for the rest of my life.
While trying to clumsily hold some English classes in Sofia’s concentration camps for people on the move, I’ve paid the most careful attention to the stories that some of them have decided to share with me. Beyond the support that I have tried to show them, I have decided to give their stories a space where to be heard, be this space a post on social media, a raising-awareness event or just a conversation with some acquaintances or friends of mine. It’s by seeing how little “people in the grey zone” (as someone brilliantly defined everyone who could potentially strive for migrants’ rights, but is not doing it) knew about (forced) migration that I have decided to concentrate my efforts in raising awareness about this crisis. A crisis that many like to call “refugee crisis” – as if it was an unmanageable, exogenous phenomenon originated from some unknowable causes, or even worse a crisis attributable to the people on the move –, and which I prefer to define as a crisis of humanity. A crisis provoked by causes that are endogenous to the North and to its social, political and economic model: the export of arms to the countries where people on the move are fleeing from; the borders’ business ; and a lack of willingness to assist people in need. This lack of assistance does not concern only migrants, but many other vulnerable people living in contemporary societies, and cannot be regarded simply as governments’ negligence. It leads people in need to eventually accept any living and working conditions (when and if they are allowed or capable to work), thus reinforcing through their cheap, black-market, seasonal labour the foundations of the same capitalistic and hierarchical system that is oppressing them.
This crisis of humanity not only is visible in the dehumanization of the people on the move, but it has also caused a self-dehumanization of many citizens of the North, as if they are being hit by Dante’s contrapasso. By dehumanizing people on the move, and helped in this by almost all media, many have lost a great part of the humanity they are (maybe not aware of being) capable of. Many citizens of the North have temporarily given up their humanity in the attempt to defend their economic privileges, which are in most cases not even in danger.
During the last ten months, I’ve therefore tried to establish a dialogue also with those people who seem to be a priori against the free movement and the recognition of the needs of certain other people. It’s not for me to say whether I have been successful or not. However, I am sure to have learnt yet another thing from this experience: although we may see some individuals as humanity’s enemies, and consider them incapable of fighting alongside us, I believe we should never lose hope in their will to change their mind. We should not try to persuade anyone, reproducing thus the logics of the media that spread the stereotypes many people are victim of. We should all together make an effort to deconstruct these stereotypes, tear down the economic, social, physical and psychological walls that divide us and facilitate the self-liberation of everyone’s humanity. In the last ten months, I have met many people who are doing this every day. Some of them are on this blog.
P.S.: As this very brief description of my last ten moths started with Shakespeare, citizen of the North, I’d like to share also a poem of Mahmoud Darwish, oppressed citizen of the world:
وأنتَ تُعِدُّ فطورك، فكِّر بغيركَ
لا تَنْسَ قوتَ الحمام
وأنتَ تخوضُ حروبكَ، فكِّر بغيركَ
لا تنس مَنْ يطلبون السلام
وأنتَ تسدد فاتورةَ الماء، فكِّر بغيركَ
مَنْ يرضَعُون الغمامٍ
وأنتَ تعودُ إلى البيت، بيتكَ، فكِّر بغيركَ
لا تنس شعب الخيامْ
وأنت تنام وتُحصي الكواكبَ، فكِّر بغيركَ
ثمّةَ مَنْ لم يجد حيّزاً للمنام
وأنت تحرّر نفسك بالاستعارات، فكِّر بغيركَ
مَنْ فقدوا حقَّهم في الكلام
وأنت تفكر بالآخرين البعيدين، فكِّر بنفسك
قُلْ: ليتني شمعةُ في الظلام
Think of others
As you prepare your breakfast, think of others
(do not forget the pigeon’s food).
As you conduct your wars, think of others
(do not forget those who seek peace).
As you pay your water bill, think of others
(those who are nursed by clouds).
As you return home, to your home, think of others
(do not forget the people of the camps).
As you sleep and count the stars, think of others
(those who have nowhere to sleep).
As you liberate yourself in metaphor, think of others
(those who have lost the right to speak).
As you think of others far away, think of yourself
(say: “If only I were a candle in the dark”).
Wikipedia, which I sometimes trust, says that “a concentration camp (or internment camp) is a place where a government forces many people to live. Usually, those people belong to groups that the government does not like. The government may think these people are its enemies. In the past, governments have also put people in concentration camps because they belonged to a certain religion, race, or ethnic group. Usually, people are sent to concentration camps without having a trial or being found guilty of a crime.”
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