I have been a migrant. I have lived, legally and illegally, in nine different countries. In 1993 I was trying to escape Romania. I was studying engineering at that time in Craiova. Being a Roma in Romania in 1993 was not easy: we faced pogroms and strident anti-Gypsyism. But that was just one of the reasons. I was also trying to escape from the huge rats I saw every evening, the garbage and dirt of the city, the political instability, my violent and alcoholic father, and the uncertainty of the future.
I had a visa for Germany. Germany being notorious for its “love” of Roma, the UK seemed a better option. Because my father worked for the Romanian railways, I could get a free return ticket each year to any place in Europe. I decided to try to cross to the UK from Oostende, in Belgium. I had heard that some Romanians managed to do that.
I reached Oostende late in the evening. Compared to Romania, Belgium looked like a fairy-tale. Even the railway station was amazing. Clean and beautiful buildings, people dressed up elegantly, expensive cars and luxurious restaurants. I waited in the railway station for night to come. A barbed wire fence separated the station from the ferry dock. I planned to jump over during the night and to climb into one of the many trucks that were lined up for the ferry to the UK.
I watched the railway station cleaners with envy. They were dressed in clean name-brand sport clothes. They seemed happy and their job looked easy. They fed me – I must have looked completely destitute. That was the first time I ate falafel. Two Moroccans, one Tunisian, and one Libyan. When they left, they bought me a can of Fanta and tried to give me some money, but I refused.
I did not manage to cross that night. Cold, dogs and nasty truck drivers were too big obstacles for me. I returned to Romania. Over the next year, the friendship of a group of Palestinian students in Romania helped me to survive. I tutored them. One of them, Suheil, was always there for me. He often bought food for me and he shared whatever he received from home with me. He eventually married a really nice Romanian girl. Many people treated her as a whore for loving a Palestinian – one of the kindest people I knew. I used to joke with her that she would have been treated better if she was Roma.
Eventually I succeeded in leaving Romania and spent many years abroad. But I moved back to Romania and have been back for many years now. During the last decade, I often worked with refugees and migrants. I spent time in refugee camps. Not just visited them, but actually spent time there. There is a specific smell to a refugee camp. When it’s hot, the smell is a mix of rotten garbage and sweat; when it’s cold and humid, it smells of smoke and dirty damp clothes. Smells I also grew up with.
I’ve seen hundreds of thousands of people living in refugee camps, slums, shacks. Syrians in Lebanon; Serbs and Roma from Kosovo in Macedonia and Montenegro; Africans, Bangladeshis, Bosnians and Roma in Italy; Iraqis, Syrians and Kurds in Turkey; Rohingyas in Thailand. Slums in India, Cambodia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and ghettoes in Eastern and Western Europe.
Since this year started, 137,000 people have already crossed the Mediterranean Sea. It is very probably that more than 4,000 have died trying to cross. A good part of those are children. Desperate people trying to run away from conflicts and abject poverty.
In June this year I took part in a high-level discussion at the Romanian Presidency that touched on the “refugee crisis”. The President’s Councilor was adamant that Romania should refuse any quota for refugees as they would be a “danger for Romanian society”.
Political elites across Europe voice similar positions. It stinks thousands of times worse than the most awful and crowded camps. It stinks of indifference, cowardice and hypocrisy.
The majority of the refugees are children: children who had the bad luck to be born outside of the walls of Fortress Europe. At the moment, these children get more help from those radical groups we (rightly) despise than from us, the kind, generous, civilized Europeans. We simply build bigger and better walls, while lamenting about the “criminals” that bring these children to our borders.
We seem to forget that it was us, the Europeans, who created the migrant-sending states on the principle of Divide and Rule, throwing together people with a history of hatred for each other in the same nations. We supported insane despots, played the role of masters in a disgusting Game of Thrones, sold weapons, including chemical ones, and did whatever we could to maintain the flow of cheap oil and whatever other goods we needed to be comfortable. We had no regard for the consequences of these decisions in the countries we created.
Conferences and speeches at luxurious receptions will not solve much. The European approach seems to consist of talking about courage and preaching about what others should do. This is not courage – it is sociopathy.
There are tens of millions of Europeans who could easily host and help a family of refugees in their homes. I am ready to host a family. I am not rich, but I will not become poor by doing this.
More than 3.4 million Europeans have savings of over 1,000,000 EUR. There are also tens of thousands, if not more, businesses that could adopt a family. Tens of thousands of NGOs, charities and churches. Thousands of intergovernmental organisation bureaucrats who make a good living out of nice words and reports could finally gain some legitimacy by enacting the generous agendas of their institutions.
We can help. We can help enough to solve most of the problems. We could show that we are indeed a moral Europe, that we care and that our words about human rights and the value of democratic societies are not empty ones. At the same time, we would repair our broken relations with the Arab world and get back into the driving seat for making this world a better one.
It will require courage. It will not be simple. Politicians will need to make it easier for us to “adopt” these families. They will need to become serious about solving the root causes of the conflicts in these countries. But it would be worth it. Surely, if nothing else, it would ease the stench of hypocrisy that follows the speeches of most European political elites.