“the rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor
and there’s a mighty judgement coming, but I may be wrong”
—Leonard Cohen, Tower of Song
The waitress in my Panama City restaurant last night immediately asked how easy it is to immigrate to Canada and thus I regaled her with stories of eternal winter, ridiculously high prices and huge distances … yet here I am visiting her country (although she was Colombian), whereas mine is simply a distant concept.
I have been very moved by the recent reports from Europe of hundreds of people drowning trying to reach Italy’s south shore.
Let us step away from all the racism, unfounded critiques and quick solutions and contemplate what these people are really going through.
For those of us from countries where we can travel relatively freely, are we even able to contemplate the risks people take to travel across North Africa and the Mediterranean in hope of refugee status in crisis-hit Italy?
Or for those swimming from Cuba to the United States. Or taking rickety boats from Indonesia to Australia – where the government is downright inhospitable and has even been found in breach of the UN Charter.
These are not easy subjects and I do not claim to have clear answers, but at least, at this point, I can acknowledge that in a similar circumstance I am definitely the personality who would attempt the journey.
800 people just drowned – and that was after they crossed the Sahara Desert, where presumably many more died before even making it to the port.
The colonial / post colonial model really is to blame and the consequent endemic corruption and poverty drives the desire to relocate, but also the concept. I wrote about the Charle Hebdo attack in Paris and will stand and defend a free media. World leaders walked arm-in-arm through Paris in support of free press, the Charlie Hebdo victims and unalienable human rights.
Yet in a moment of balance, we could appreciate the disproportionate attention paid to that terrible attack, versus the recent slaughter of students in Kenya, or of course the thousands upon thousands of migrants who die every year chasing a dream.
So when I think of Leonard Cohen’s quote above, I visit the idea of the north. Many of these migrants are not necessarily escaping absolute misery – and more importantly nor are they travelling to paradise.
The life awaiting the few who do make the journey successfully is rarely wonderful and so many of those leaving are not from the most desperate tiers of society.
Imagine finally reaching Italy and selling trinkets to tourists while being hassled by police. Or working picking fruit in the Southern US for a quarter of minimum wage. Or somehow being accepted to Canada, where you must learn the language and with minimum salary attempt to dress for winter. Even making it to France or the UK where the media assaults you for ‘stealing money and jobs.’
This situation is tragic. No one country does more than the others and voters in the north should stop patting themselves on the back for already doing too much. Much like in a flood, water will eventually balance out and these conceptual and economic dikes we have constructed will not hold until the people escaping their homes find value in their lives.
This is short and reactionary, but please try – as hard as possible – to see the narrative from the perspective of the migrant. I know we can find the humanity at the very least to acknowledge that something about this global conversation is entirely wrong.