By Alice Nesselrode
Imagine you’re in a truck, many, many miles from home. You have been travelling for weeks, months, preparing for this for years, hoping to escape, to start a new life, far away from where you grew up. There is the heavy presence of 30 other people around. You may have got to know them a bit over the last weeks. That woman with her little child, around three years old, that wouldn’t stop crying over her husband who died before, trying to get them a spot in the truck, you can hear her sobbing in the darkness. That young boy, hardly 16, who fled to Europe to get money for his family back home, whose shoulder is pressed against yours. That girl right in front of you who probably lost her smile forever due to the things she has seen in her 12 years of living. The truck is dark. You feel the presence of the others more than you actually see them, and you do not know where you are going, where this ride will take you. You just know that it will be better there than any other place you have been to before.
Every day, hundreds of those trucks pass the borders of central European countries illegally, filled with immigrants in the back, hoping for a better life somewhere in the heart of Europe. Last week, one of those trucks was found at the side of a highway in Austria, parked as if the driver just went for a walk. The difference was just that there was no driver to be found. In fact, there was no life to be found around the truck at all; just the cold bodies of about 50 refugees, in the back of the truck, which had been dead and rotting for almost 3 days. They had gotten on the truck before to be smuggled into another country, in masses, hoping their life would change forever. They had no reassurance that where they went would bring them the peace they deserved and yet they were desperate enough to risk it. And in the cold dark back of the truck they suffocated, they anonymously died like flies. Inhuman is such a death, far from any dignity.
After the horrors of the Holocaust, everybody said “Never again” and yet, look at Europe, in the 21st century. People that were born into the horror of terror regimes are trying to escape from it, are trying to build up a new life, and what does Europe do? Hungary has built up a wall against refugees and has just decided to move its army to the border of their country, using tear gas against the asylum-seekers. While in Turkey, little refugee children are washing up onshore, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán does not see the refugee situation as “European, but rather a German problem”, since Germany is, together with Sweden, the most welcoming country to the masses of Syrians, Afghans and other people who fled their home. Indeed, Germany and Sweden alone were the processors of 40% of the EU’s asylum applications in 2014.
Orbán publicly claimed in a speech that he does not want any more Muslims in his country, and coldly invented them to stay in Turkey and Serbia instead of continuing their way to central Europe. It is hardly understandable that the Prime Minister of a developed country just like Hungary is could say such thing publicly, but the sad truth is that this reflects the opinion of many Europeans. In Germany, asylum homes are being burned down, people officially demonstrate against refugees. “I really am not a Nazi, but…”- comments are to be found everywhere on social media such as Facebook, people publish opinions like “one dead baby washed up ashore is still a lot of babies too less” or “just machine gun them all down so we can have peace again”. All this really makes me wonder where our moral values got lost. Human beings like you and me are dying in the sea, in the back of trucks, under trains they were thrown off from and people just shrug their shoulders?
We, as the European people, have to act, and we have to act now. There are several ways to act. There are ways to help, even without speaking Arabic, even without protesting somewhere against right-wing extremism, even without spending a lot of money. Refugee projects are being established in many cities, where you can volunteer to teach English in your free time, talk to the refugees and play with the kids or also just bring old clothes. We cannot change the facts causing those people to abandon their home, be it war, dictatorship or just pure poverty, that’s the job of the leaders of our countries. But we can try to help those in need heal their wounds, live in the peace they deserve and show them that Europe still respects values such as human rights and human dignity. It is just a question about how many more people will have to die until all of Europe’s leaders will finally not only realize the seriousness of the situation, but also act accordingly.
If you want to become active in Maastricht, check out the Refugee Project Maastricht and get involved!