Giving Life a New Home

May 26, 2023

New life in the form of new people bring new ideals of energy, creativity and inspiration writes Columban missionary Fr Bobby Gilmore, as he expresses concern over hostility towards destitute people on the move. 

It was summertime and the rivulet had changed its course leaving a small pool stagnant with no water passing through. The tadpoles were inactive, lethargic, lifeless, some dead, while others were ready to die. In another adjacent pool fresh water still found its way there passing through into a larger pool and then to the river.

In this pool with a little water feed in and out tadpoles seemed full of vim, vigour and vitality. Extinction seemed the fate of those in one pool while vibrancy was reflected in the other.

Now when I hear about walls, moats, fences and borders barring, people, immigrants and refugees, from entering a country I am reminded of the tadpole pools. The pure isolation, lack of new water, nutrients and new life is its demise, while the other with new, regular impure water passing through is bringing new varied life, nourishment and diversity. The latter is alive. The former is in demise.

The stagnant one reminds me of countries that have barred outsider impurity, new human beings, to energise its population with a view to protecting ethnic, social, religious, economic or national purity, as the saying goes; keeping it in the family is safest.

However, the opposite is true. None of our parents are from the same yard. To survive and develop as a family, community or nation, the outsider, the non-member, the not us, is a necessary irritant challenging the mundane, the ordinary and the routine if life is to be enriched by future generations.

The pure, the insider, and the impure, the outsider, are necessary components in the process of development at every level. New life in the form of new people bring new ideals of energy, creativity and inspiration. Sedentary borders are breached which overtime will be appreciated and integrated in a sense of belonging. In everything new there is an unfamiliar unknown to be discovered. In everything old, the familiar, needs to be let go, remembered.

The present world order seems to be going against human and natural trends in all aspects of life that have brought tremendous progress and development. Nativism, isolation, quarantine is against the human desire to be participants of something greater, family, community, nation, world order and to move.

Yet, the present global trend of isolationism, national purity, is opposed to that. After the Berlin Wall collapsed and the Bamboo Curtain became ragged few visible borders existed. There were invisible ones at ports of entry. Since the turn of this century the construction of border walls, electrified fences, moats, sensors, cameras and motion detectors has become a growth industry.

New economic, political, social, cultural and nationalistic religious nativism are becoming defining identities-emotive Islamism, Europeanism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Evangelism, Americanism and militaristic moralism are the most apparent, all exemplified in expulsions as in the case of the Rohingya in Myanmar, deportation and demonisation of immigrants in the United States, incarceration of Uighurs in China, rejection of refugees coming ashore in the name of preserving national religious purity in some European and Asian nations, persecution of Christians in India and generally partisan political purity.

Those who do not match the tenets of national political purity are demonised, treated as non-people, excluded, denied of rights, out of place, essentially saying; your human characteristics has destined you to a particular special habitation implying you shouldn’t be here.

But that is not how the world exists. Since time, every living cell has the inbuilt potential to procreate, multiply and move or use whatever mechanism was available to move. All forms of life from plant to animal to human have always been on the move.

The pandemic reminded us that not only the visible has the power of movement, but also the invisible. Is it just a coincidence in the present world infatuated with border walls, barricades, barriers, brands and blockades that an invisible intruder broke through causing death, destruction, destitution and dread?

Or is it telling us something that the course of isolationism we are on is necrophilic rather than biophilic? Covid19 has been a global reminder that we exist in a mobile global fragile system in which we need to recognise all forms of life and treat them with respect and reverence.

As if Covid19 was not sufficient to remind me of global interdependence and mobility, I am daily reminded of that by the presence in my shoulder bag of a sea heart, a nut, also called sea bean, found washed up on the west of Ireland coastline.

At ripening in a pod of many, called a Monkey Ladder, generally beside rivers in the West Indies and the Yucatan peninsula, these nuts fall into the water, are dragged out to sea, latch onto ocean currents like the Gulf Stream ending up on European shores. They are as curious arrivals today as they were to Christopher Columbus on finding one on the coast of Portugal many centuries ago.

Legend has it that its discovery scratched his maritime mind to imagine that there were places and people out in the wild blue yonder to be ‘discovered’ and tragically ending up becoming extinct.

For present world leaders to imagine walls, barricades and barriers will stop human migration is the height of folly. It is certain that if one route is blocked human impulse to move will, as it has always done, find another way. They should be reminded that in the past, oceans, mountains, deserts, hostility, hunger, thirst and danger were transited just as they are today.

People will keep moving to perceived destinations of safety from places of danger, destitution and disaster whatever the causes, be it war, conflict, common violence or climate change. Their antennas are telling them long before they decide to move that the quality of life in their habitats is diminishing. Home, where they expected to be treated well, is failing them.

However, a disturbing aspect of many governments’ attitude towards people on the move is their hostility to the destitute. Recent media has been reporting governments driving way boat loads of immigrants from landing. Equally disturbing is the targeting of journalists who highlight the horrible conditions in which immigrants and those seeking asylum are detained and treated.

Also revolting is the criminalisation of compassion. Yet, in many instances, local communities seeing boats carrying destitute immigrants off their shores rescue them against the wishes of their governments who wish to push such boats back out to sea. The goodness of people embarrasses their leaders who seem to lack shame and the human characteristic to blush.

Immigrants, people, like all other forms of life, bring more than what their suitcases contain. Look at the vibrancy of many nations around the world in which immigrants have been arriving and passing through. Their arrival exposes native puritanism abetted by political policies denying them access to basic, health services, education and blaming them in public discourse as the cause of indigenous deprivation.

Of course, the lack of cohesive immigration policies agreed by sending and receiving nations has created a new global industry of human trafficking. Traffickers seem to be more astute than governments in managing borders particularly in areas of the world where the interests of political powers have caused regime change leaving whole geographical areas bereft of the rule of law in the hands of human predators acting with impunity.

Some political leaders seem more disparaging of immigrants than they are of the traffickers. Is there an instance in which traffickers are called scum, vermin, pests, cockroaches-words used to denigrate immigrants and asylum seekers?

Yet, governments do not seem to have difficulty in creating wildlife passages to facilitate the movement of animals. Why not create safe passages for people to escape poverty, violence, war, gulags and climate change? Are people on the move less important than animals and other forms of live?

Human rights declarations that governments have signed up to seem to be ignored, allowed to gather dust. Also, demographic deficits, particularly in the European Union, where according to the United Nations report for every person over the age of sixty-four there are only two people between sixteen and sixty-four.

The response of the member states was and is to raise the pension ages rather than devise safe, innovative immigration policies.

The old attitude that immigrants are takers not givers has been given new legs over the years. Recently, there were reports criticising immigrants for remitting some of their wages to maintain their families back home. Immigrants energise economies away by their labour and ingenuity and at home by their remittances. Because of Covid19 immigrants and their dependents have experienced deprivation.

According to a recent World Bank report, remittances declined by twenty percent. Remittances, as we know in Ireland and in many post-colonial states are a lifeline to households for investment, nutrition, education and general wellbeing. They are a source of foreign exchange for developing nations.

In booming economies immigrants are valued. In economic downturns, immigrants are disposable and if employed are targets of envy and begrudgery. Would health services function without them? To develop, life searches for a somewhere, a home in which to belong, flower, contribute and participate.

Unfortunately, history gives few examples of people who learn the lessons of their own history… History is made by successive shocks, of confronting and overcoming successive challenges. Societies progress, and in the end, having attained complete liberty, may achieve a democratic state in some ideal form. (Stephane Hessel)

Columban missionary Fr Bobby Gilmore was a founding member of the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland.

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