Does anyone remember, some weeks ago just before the current refugee crisis in Europe exploded, a news piece from a small German town, where a driver on a local bus, upon noticing that many of the passengers were foreigners, possibly refugees or asylum seekers, activated the bus loudspeaker and announced, in English, that all the passengers were welcome in Germany?
Such a simple gesture, yet it made international news.
I was personally moved and inspired by the gesture. It was the hallmark of much bigger things to come, the change that had been just hovering in the air. The change is not the sudden and dramatic increase in the number of asylum seekers, but us, as Europeans, determining who we are and what we stand for. I think we are at the crossroads of history.
I never thought I'd agree on an issue of immigration and asylum policy with Finland's new minister of justice, but when he tweeted on 4 September that there are two sides to the immigration discussion, the right one and the wrong one, I wholeheartedly agreed. Because I think the time has come to choose sides, and it is no longer a question of simply nodding one's head when someone else wishes the asylum seekers welcome. It is time for each of us, individually, to put our money where our mouth is. Our children and grandchildren will ask us down the line, what WE did, when the chips were down and Europeans were asked to reveal their true colours.
And so many people are doing this. I wrote in my last rant about my frustration with the hostility that people were showing, but that is receding to the background in my newsfeed, partially because the positive news are outnumbering the negative ones, partially because I am no longer interested in reading about meanness and cruelty. The haters are SOOO last month.
The news that are pouring in are overwhelming in attesting to the kindness of people. From a Serbian police officer cuddling a Syrian toddler to frustrated Austrians driving to the Hungarian border to offer a lift to the fleeing families. It is not only in pesky Iceland that individuals are coming forward in their thousands to offer to house asylum seekers, even the Finnish prime minister (at the instigation of his wife, naturally,) has promised his second home for this purpose. In many countries refugee organisations are not inundated only with arriving asylum seekers, but with offers to help from the local population.
We are finally beginning to see the real power of the “civil society”. It is not some far away fancy concept for academic study and policy wonks to talk about on current affairs programs on TV. It is us.
Other inspiring examples, from your own experience or what you have seen in the media, welcome in the comments! I will come back to Switzerland and our own efforts in my next post.