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Replacing fear with friendship

by
04 March 2016

Migrants greatly enrich Western culture, and should be welcomed, argues Brother Alois

TAIZÉ

A new place: some of the young migrants in Taizé, who have come from Darfur and Afghanistan via the “Jungle” in Calais

A new place: some of the young migrants in Taizé, who have come from Darfur and Afghanistan via the “Jungle” in Calais

AROUND the world, women, men, and children are being forced to leave their land. It is their distress that creates in them a motivation to leave. That distress is stronger than all the barriers that impede their move. I can vouch for this because recently I spent a few days in Syria.

In the city of Homs, the extent of the destruction caused by the bombing is unimaginable. Much of the city is in ruins. I saw a ghost town, and I felt the despair of the inhabitants of the country.

Today, Syrians are flooding into Europe; tomorrow, it will be other peoples. The large flows of migration which we are seeing are inevitable; not realising this would be short-sighted. Looking for ways to regulate the flow of migrants is legitimate — necessary, even; but to want to prevent it by building walls bristling with barbed wire is useless.

When we are confronted by this situation, fear is understandable. Resisting fear does not mean that it has to disappear, but that it should not paralyse us. We must not allow the rejection of foreigners to take root in our minds; for the refusal of the other is the seed of barbarism.

 

AS A first step, the rich countries should acquire a clearer awareness that they have their share of responsibility for the wounds of history that have caused, and continue to cause, massive migration, particularly from Africa and the Middle East. Today, some specific political choices remain a source of instability in these regions.

A second approach should cause them to go beyond the fear of foreigners, of cultural differences, and courageously begin to shape the new face that migration is already giving to our societies in the West.

Instead of seeing foreigners as a threat to our standard of living, or our culture, we should welcome them as members of the same human family. And we shall find that the flow of refugees and migrants, although it creates difficulties, can also be an opportunity.

Recent studies show the positive impact of migration on the population and the economy. Why do so many speeches emphasise the difficulties so much, and never highlight the positive aspects? Those who knock at the door of countries richer than theirs cause these countries to learn solidarity. Do they not help them to gain a new vitality?

 

I WOULD like to mention here our experience at Taizé. It is humble and limited, but real. Since November, in association with the local government, the community of municipalities to which our village belongs, and local associations, we have been hosting at Taizé 11 young migrants from Sudan — most of them from Darfur — and Afghanistan, all coming from the “Jungle” of Calais.

Their arrival has sparked an impressive show of solidarity in our region: volunteers come to teach them French, doctors treat them for free, and neighbours take them on outings in the area and for bike rides.

Surrounded by friendship in this way, these young people, who have gone through tragic events, are rebuilding their lives. And such a simple contact with Muslims changes the outlook of those around them.

In the village, these young people have also been welcomed by families from various countries — Vietnam, Laos, Bosnia, Rwanda, Egypt, Iraq — who have come to Taizé in past decades, and who are now an integral part of our wider community. All have experienced great suffering, but bring vitality to our village as a result of the richness and diversity of their cultures.

 

IF SUCH an experience is possible in a small region, why can’t it be undertaken on a much larger scale? It is wrong to think that xenophobia is the sentiment most widely shared — often, there is above all a great deal of ignorance.

Once personal encounters are possible, fears give way to fellowship. This involves seeing things from the other’s point of view. Mutual friendship is the only way to prepare for a future of peace.

By taking on, together, the responsibilities required by the wave of migration, rather than playing on people’s fears, political leaders could help the European Union regain a momentum that has been greatly slowed down.

A whole younger generation in Europe aspires to this openness. We are aware of this, because for years we have been welcoming, on our hill of Taizé, for week-long international meetings, tens of thousands of young people from across the continent. They see that the building up of Europe finds its true meaning only if it shows solidarity with other continents, and with the poorest peoples.

Many young Europeans have difficulty understanding their governments when they declare their intent to close their borders. These young people ask, rather, that the globalisation of economics be associated with a globalisation of solidarity, and that it should be expressed, in particular, by a dignified and responsible welcome for migrants. Many of them are ready and willing to contribute to this.

 

Brother Alois is the Prior of the Ecumenical Community of Taizé, in Burgundy.

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