On June 26, 2006, Der Spiegel published issue #26, showing a bedraggled bunch of people struggling to come ashore on a beach, somewhere in Europe. The title, Ansturm der Armen, means Assault of the Poor, and it is identical to the scenes of desperation that are part of the daily news cycle, in 2015. I kept this issue, perhaps because the story made such a deep impression. The article did not capture anyone’s attention at the time; unlike the image of that drowned little boy nearly a decade later.
This cover piece is long, detailed, and highly specific, retracing the four year long odyssey of John Ekow Ampan from Ghana to Spain and from there, to Germany. Ampan is black; he left behind his wife and two children and didn’t return for nearly a decade. When he does, his children are half grown and estranged; his wife, bitter. But they have a house; the children are attending school–possible only because of the money he has been sending every month. The story outlines in great detail the many difficult reasons why this man decided to make this horrible journey replete with beatings, jail, hunger, to mention just a few of the obstacles. Today, it is a story that is only too familiar; with an added element: a vicious and unending religious war that is a cover for a bitter battle over who shall have the last word in the Middle East. Syria is not Ghana, but in essence, the story from 2006 and 2015 are about the same thing: utter hopelessness and the courage of some to simply leave it all and embark on a dangerous journey to Europe, where hope for a normal life is still possible. A Europe already bursting at the seams, and beginning to wonder how many more it can be expected to feed, house, and take in, permanently.
Today, Ampan would be sent back swiftly because compared to the plight of people fleeing from war, he is fine where he is, or was. He is classified as a so called economic migrant; his only problem is lack of opportunity to feed his family.
We-that is the West- are still in denial about what is going on. This is clearly an old story, a story getting more desperate and urgent every day, one that demands our full attention. It is a complicated story when we search for reasons, but for starters, how long is the USA going to ignore a situation that its disastrous invasion of Iraq has precipitated? Or, how long is Angela Merkel going to impersonate an angel of mercy while at the same time not forcing her allies to do more? How long before the hard pressed Germans will revert to type and start turning against the increasing hordes of young, muslim newcomers that look scary?
This is a situation that must be dealt with, and dealt with swiftly. The idea of stopping the war in Syria or Afghanistan is nice, but we seem unable to do that. So we must-all of us- accept responsibility and do everything in our power to help the victims of a vile international power structure that refuses to consider peace. We must join those that are already in the trenches, and we must urge our governments to act swiftly and decisively. Pulling back from earlier commitments, something the incipient Trudeau government is already considering, is not an option. We must act now.
If we do not, we will reap the whirlwind, the decade old stirrings of which are already upon us.