Follow Rokhaya Diallo on Twitter: @RokhayaDiallo
PARIS -- As our European continent is in the throes of an unprecedented migration crisis, with disturbing images shocking the world, the French government is struggling to take measures that match our reputation as "the country of human rights."
Faced with pressure from citizens, indignant after having seen the images of human beings risking their lives and the lives of their children trying to cross our borders, our President, Francois Hollande, finally announced that an additional 24,000 refugees would be allowed into France ... over the course of two years. Accepting 33 people a day seems really pitiful when compared to the 20,000 people in distress that our neighbor, Germany, welcomed in just one weekend.
The circumlocutions used by our politicians when it comes to doing what should be our basic duty, leaves me speechless.
The human urgency is blatant: the pain these migrants express at our gates and the principles that make up the cornerstone of our democratic pact should cause us to come immediately to the aid of those who were unfortunate enough to be born in less favored parts of the globe. But our politicians, far from being influenced by these principles, seem on the contrary to be frightened to inaction by much more mundane considerations: upcoming electoral scores.
According to their saddening calculations, showing signs of favoring displaced populations might cause resistance among their precious constituencies that have proven very sympathetic towards the rancid ideas of the extreme right. It seems as if the fact that our country's having sent the largest number of far-right representatives to the European Parliament has become an idee fixe.
The French government is struggling to take measures that match our reputation as 'the country of human rights.'
When he spoke on the subject, Hollande did not attempt to mitigate the dark, closed ideas of the National Front or to transform the people's mentality by putting forth rational arguments concerning the reality of the impact of immigration; we all know the effects are far from negative. Instead, he conjugated the "humanitarian" necessity with the interpretation of a reassuring "firmness" for those who fear an invasion of immigrants. He went no further than affirming that our "borders must be protected," as though we were at war and in danger of being attacked by hordes of immigrants.
And his prime minister wouldn't risk contradicting the president. Prime Minister Manuel Valls, in a televised interview, hastened to announce that our efforts would consist of "distinguishing refugees from migrants who have no business on our territory," adding magnanimously that any undesirables would be "escorted back to the border with dignity." So our country is preparing to implement a triage policy to distinguish deserving immigrants who are fleeing war from those undeserving because they are "only" fleeing poverty.
Over the years, thousands of people have risked their lives on rickety rafts to flee countries where they cannot have a decent existence. In Senegal, where my family is from, the anthem of young people who risk death to reach the Spanish coast is, "Barça wala Barsacq" -- Wolof for "Barcelona or Heaven." How can we state with any decency that people so desperate as to face death to escape from their country's miserable conditions, don't deserve a welcome to the "Country of Enlightenment"?
Where would Manuel Valls himself be, son of Spanish immigrants, if his family had had to face such intransigence?
How can we state with any decency that people so desperate as to face death to escape from their country's miserable conditions, don't deserve a welcome to the 'Country of Enlightenment'?
My parents came to France in the seventies to provide a decent life for their children. I grew up fully aware of their sacrifice: the departure from their country was a brutal removal, distancing them from their loved ones, challenging them with carving out a spot in a new country and sometimes confronting them with disdain or hostility. They had to completely rebuild their lives.
Because I was born in France and am French, I have a passport that allows me to travel almost everywhere in the world without issue. Those members of my own family who were wrongly born on the bad side of the Mediterranean live as if under house arrest by the warlike discourse of politicians more concerned with defending their electoral interests than with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states in article 13:
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state. 2. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.
Whenever I discuss this subject with my cousins, I am ashamed of benefitting from such an injustice.
While German political leaders, both left and right, strive to explain to their constituents the urgency of accepting the refugees, teaching Germans to understand that their country is able to help them, I am ashamed when I see how our politicians' lack of courage is bogged them down in a language of retreat. I am ashamed to see how difficult it has become for us to assume a humanistic position that would bring honor to our republican motto.
I am ashamed to live on a continent where money is spent on barricades instead of investing in human destinies.
Immigrants represent only 0.05 percent of the population of the European Union, and France is far from being a welcoming country with an asylum rate much lower than many countries (22 percent, compared to Germany's 42 percent and Sweden's 77 percent). In spite of the migration crisis, we are among the rare countries where the number of asylum requests has decreased. Even the most distraught immigrants are not fooled by the lack of feeling where the so-called French principles are concerned.
I am ashamed to live on a continent where the immigration policy consists of building walls -- 13 billion euros spent since 2000 -- where money is spent on barricades instead of investing in human destinies. I am ashamed to be represented by governments that consider that someone can be guilty of fleeing poverty.
I am ashamed that this country that my parents chose to be mine, today is closing its doors to my desperate sisters and brothers who are calling out for help.
Translated by Alberta Wilson.
Diallo's documentary "Steps to Liberty" will be screened at the Greene Space in New York on Oct. 27 -- the date marking the 10th anniversary of the deaths of Zyed Benna and Bouna Traore that were at the root of a wave of unprecedented uprisings in the poorest neighborhoods of France.