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Will not see, will not hear, will not know

Caroline Moorehead's journey among refugees is a journey without end and without answers. Therefore, read it.


[escape] Was it really true that the ordinary German did not know what was going on in Nazi concentration camps? Penny Kelly from Port Augusta, Australia, could never quite believe it. Not until she saw the indifferent reaction among her friends and neighbors during a service at the local Catholic church on October 18, 2002. That day, when the children in the congregation prayed for asylum seekers to be transferred from Woomera to Baxter, she realized that it might be true .

The children had heard about the conditions in the closed refugee institutions through the media and were upset. However, the adults did not seem to care, a terrified Kelly could see. That was when she went out to Baxter for the first time. She wanted to see life in the institution from the inside and talk to the residents there – the victims of Australia's infamous asylum policy.

Ever higher fences

17 million people worldwide are on the run today. It is a figure that causes Europe, the United States and Australia to build ever-higher fences, which gives blue-brown powers wind in the sails and which causes government ministers to order deterrent videos of conditions at Norwegian asylum centers. Do not hit, do not hit, go ahead, are refrained. But at the same time: 17 million people are less than half the number who fled Europe after World War II.

British human rights activist and journalist Caroline Moorehead has been to Baxter, Australia, talking to Penny Kelly, among others. But first she went to Cairo. This is where she became acquainted with the "lost boys of Cairo": 56 Liberian men, aged 15-24, who had all seen their families being massacred at home in Liberia and who were now living in the slums as they clung to the hope of achieving refugee status.

A sea of ​​dead

Here begins Moorehead's journey. It is depicted in the book Human Cargo. A Journey Among Refugees. She visits the tasty camps in Guinea, where starved and frightened Liberian refugees are being held. She then goes to the camps in Lebanon, where the third generation of Palestinian refugees are about to enter the world. One wonders: What happens to a human being whose existence and history is a permanent exile, without the opportunity to move on?

Later, Moorehead stands on a Sicilian beach and sees the sea where hundreds, maybe thousands, of refugees drown each year in a desperate attempt to get to Europe. Does anyone care?

The author is in Afghanistan in July 2002, as large flocks of Afghans return from exile to a country where a comprehensive international aid apparatus thinks that this time they will have a successful repatriation. The following year, she is back in Kabul and hears how there is already talk of downsizing international aid activity, even though the most basic infrastructure is still missing. Was it worth the trip for the Afghans who went home again – for those of them who had a choice, mind you?

Heroes of the West

No, most people said they did not know what was going on in the concentration camps. Therefore, one should make amends after World War II. The Jews were to be given their own state, large sums were invested in repatriating refugees. There was talk that it was a right to be able to flee – and a duty to grant asylum. As the Iron Curtain descended upon the Eastern European states and shut people in, the defectors – the ballet dancers, the journalists, the opposition – became heroes in the West. By jumping off, they showed that they had chosen the right side.

Today, Eastern Europeans can travel as much as they want. The problem is that few let them in. It is a fate they share with the majority of the earth's population. And we who are inside worry about who will pay the pensions of the future, while letting young, desperate people drown in the Mediterranean or die slowly in the waiting shelters and camps.

For the paradoxes are queuing up in refugee policy: Large sums are used by the world's richest states to keep the relatively few refugees out. At the same time, the sums that the international aid organizations allocate to the vast majority of refugees – those who live in their neighboring countries – are getting smaller. The Liberian refugees in the camps in Guinea can only dream of the early 1990s, when there was rice, some sugar and canned fish in the matrations. In 2003, it was bulgur, salt and oil, and hardly enough, writes Moorehead. And in the camps in Lebanon, new litters of cubs are constantly being dressed up in clothes sewn from flour sacks with the UN logo.

Human Cargo has already released a new edition, with updated postings on how some of the refugees are doing. I have already read the book twice and will not finish it. For Caroline Moorehead's more than three-year journey among refugees is endless and without easy answers.

The text is saturated with facts, without spoiling the book. The language is subdued but intense. Moorehead shows us the individual destinies and places them in a historical and political context, twists and turns the concept of refugee and refuses for the longest time to give me what I want: a solution, the culprits' head on a platter or a political action program I can vote in the next parliamentary election. Instead, she gives the 17 million people a name, a story, a past they flee from, a future they dream of – and a present in limbo.

In a crowded cemetery in Canicatti in Sicily, the two Liberian girls Happy and Joy are buried. Neither their optimistic names nor the wreckage of a boat they clung to got them alive across the ocean as they tried to get into Europe on the night of September 15, 2002. Their families had sold houses, land and livestock to pay the price of human traffickers. The girls thought they were on their way to safety and freedom. Unfortunately, like so many others, they were wrong. s

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