Friday, April 8, 2011

Reflections on the Rwandan Genocide and African imgrants

An Iranian man set himself on fire in Amsterdam yesterday.  His reason for doing so? his request for asylum was denied and he could not face the prospect of being forcibly returned home.
A couple of years ago, during a trip to Italy where I interviewed Eritrean refugees in Italy, one young man told me of a horrifying tale of being stabbed and shot at while he made his way to a boat about to depart for Europe.  He had paid the required money but they told him the boat was full, he would be left behind, yet again, to fend for himself or face forced deportation.  He said he would rather die and drove into the water risking death by shots from the smugglers.

It may seem inconceivable to readers that there are conditions of life considered worse than death; that individuals can transcend their basic instinct of survival to choose death over life of suffering and no dignity.  But individual migrants make these choices daily as the navigate through some of the most difficult choices.

Such tales are not new to many of us who have families, relatives on the move, whose stories of abuse, detention, beatings and death reach us through different channels.  Many from midnight calls from families desperate to raise a few dollars to help pay smugglers to get them out; out of jail, out of detention; out of the country.     

On April 6th, BBC reported a boat carrying 250 people sank off of the coast of Lampadusa in Italy. The news was reported in the US as carrying Libyan refugees escaping the conflict.  But Italian and British news sources have confirmed that the majority of those on the boats were in fact Eritrean and Somali refugees.

Conditions for Libyans, Tunisians and Egyptians are desperate following the protests and ongoing conflict, but they are much  worse for those who are refugees in these countries. Lawlessness and lack of basic resources, such as food, water and housing have made their lives living hell for most, who cannot count on any protection from the agencies in the countries, nor from the international community.

For details on conditions of Eritreans in Libya, check out this other blog

Yesterday, a South African colleague sent me a link to a site marking April 7th as the "Start of 100 days of Commemoration of the Genocide in Rwanda."  It stated simply "On this 17th commemoration we remember those who were murdered as well as those who survived. We commit to working towards a day when the pledge "Never Again" becomes a reality.”  

It asks only that we take a moment to remember the day, the period and the senseless killings that resulted in so many deaths over a short period of time.    The Rwandan genocide helps us remember the past in order to reflect on the reality of our present.    The killings of hundreds and even thousands of migrants from around the world cannot be commemorated in a particular month or even a particular country; it is happening everywhere and every day.  

1 comment: