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See 'Emily' in every refugee's face

Updated: Dec 26, 2022

If a refugee sets foot in Europe, we can safely assume that they had a hell of a journey. The exact reason for their escape does not matter. Bombs, being gay, being critical of an oppressing regime, or unable to make a living are all existential threats, enough to flee one’s home. No one would willingly abandon their friends and family, home, or country where people speak one’s native language, cook familiar food and where one understands the culture. Someone who takes this enormous leap has a solid reason.

True, some could have survived or are lured by fantasies of easy money. What disillusionment of the European dream awaits! Almost all people-on-the-move crossed the Mediterranean Sea on their journey towards Europe. Except the fortunate ones, the so-called official immigrants crossing the border either with sufficient paperwork or with falsified documentation. Still, most had to cross many borders and were extorted by ‘guides’ or human smugglers. For example, if the driver had them wait in a ‘safe house’, they are left with no clear plan, only a vague promise, dwindling funds, and no security of their guide’s return. Travelling to the coast of Northern Africa, people-on-the-move sometimes take a bus, but their journeys also consist of walking through mountains and deserts, without food, and with worn-out shoes. They often have no access to phones to keep in contact and their travel party may include children. Some travel in groups with other refugees, without speaking the same language and not knowing who to trust. I can only imagine the utter exhaustion and fear.

Once they reach the coast, their arduous journey continues, crossing dangerous waters in unsafe, exposed boats... often with small children and babies.

This scene from The Handmaid's Tale makes me cry. Here, Emily and Baby Nicole arrive in Canada, fleeing from a dystopian America. The hospital staff looks at her with the respect every refugee needs and deserves. The doctor welcomes Emily with:

“You're safe now. And we're very glad you're here. We can only imagine what you've been through. So the first thing we're going to do is to make sure that the both of you are healthy.”

After that, the entire team gives Emily a standing ovation. They don’t know that Emily has been circumcised and mistreated, but they assume that she has been through hell.

I cry seeing this scene because this loving welcome towards refugees is lacking in Europe. The volunteers or workers in camps try to make them feel safe but they can only offer basic healthcare, food, and horrible accommodation: cold tents in muddy puddles, queuing for the toilets, aggression, theft, violence and even rapes in the camp. In reality, the refugees have landed in some kind of prison. Sadly, no NGO-worker can tell them they are welcome as European policies are often hostile or if they are allowed in, they still need to wait for years in uncertainty, be imprisoned, and robbed of their human dignity.

Giving refugees the welcome Emily gets, is the only humane thing to do. European politics is committing huge humanitarian crimes by taking such a hostile position towards these survivors. The only solution is that European leaders remember their own humanity, see ‘the Emily’ in each refugee and show compassion by funding programmes, which welcome refugees. Of course they are welcome. Yes, all of them!

Let’s use some of Europe’s intelligence and energy (for instance at universities) to figure out the best plan to solve this crisis. And please, please, don't say that money is the problem. We all know there's money available when you need it, it's just a matter of priorities.

Will we choose the humane approach?

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