Syrian refugees are reflected in a puddle as they wait for their turn to enter Macedonia at Greece's border.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The unsettled states of Africa, with revolutions, coups, wars and invasions, led to the rise of refugees and migrants seeking a safer, or at least a less dangerous, environment. In the past few decades, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Somalia are some of the countries affected by war and uprisings. Countries to the south of the equator, Malawi, Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe in particular, looked toward South Africa, especially after the 1994 democratic elections there replaced the apartheid government. In fact it is easier to name the countries in Africa that did not have upheavals.
Israel also had to face refugees crossing Sinai with the aim of reaching Israel. Visit south Tel Aviv any night and have a look.
Nowhere were these refugees really welcome – they were mostly poor, badly educated, lacking skills and offering little in the way to the host countries. When does a refugee become a migrant? That probably depends on the definition given to them by a country that does not have the problem – yet.
After 2011 and the death of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya became the stepping-off point for people fleeing unrest in North Africa and South Sudan. They left for the island of Lampedusa off the southern coast of Italy. (Incidentally creating a nice little earner for people in Libya with a craft or boat capable of crossing the Mediterranean.) Italy could not stop the flow of migrants, try as it did. The numbers were relentless. So too were the newsreels and social media programs. The problem was unstoppable. Anyway it was Italy’s problem, or so the rest or Europe averred.
Then as the Arab Spring moved eastwards especially to Syria and Iraq, the European Union knew that there was no solution. Greece and its surrounding islands became the target points for “entrepreneurs” to take people from Turkey in rickety, even dangerous boats.
The seemingly unstoppable problem led to the rise of right-wing nationalism in Europe. Even traditional liberal countries like Denmark, Sweden and The Netherlands looked on in horror as the rising tide of Islam arrived in their lands.
Now look at how South Africa dealt with a similar problem of unwanted refugees – and there was no religious issue involved. In the local patois, foreigners are referred to, rather unkindly, as “kwerekwere” and it means whatever the speaker wants it to, but it is always said unkindly, basically, “You are not welcome here...They come to take our jobs, at lower wages, work in unskilled areas such as car guards, gardeners, night watchmen. And so on. Also many from Zimbabwe have had army training and are said to make up a large percentage of armed robbers and cash-in-transit heists as well as car hijackings.”
This is based on no tangible evidence but is accepted anyway.
In 2008 xenophobic riots broke out in Johannesburg, Durban and Nelson Mandela Bay as Port Elizabeth is now called. These were occasions for criminal behavior, killings ( over 100 dead), looting and assaults.
To their everlasting credit the South African Jewish Board of Deputies appealed to the community to contribute to a fund that they set up to “help shopkeepers who had lost everything.” In a statement they announced that scores on innocent people were affected and needed help.
What did not improve matters was the pronouncement from the Zulu king, Goodwill Zwelithini, that “foreigners should leave South Africa.” Just the other day a headline in the Johannesburg newspaper read “Foreign Shops Ransacked. They came with hammers, rocks, they took it all.”
And how is the European Union going to handle the migrant/refugees situation? Not very promising, I’m afraid. The religious differences certainly add a dangerous element. It has been said, unkindly, that the arrival in Europe of scores of Muslims is a punishment to the Christians living there for their treatment of the Jews over the years. Not nice!