„DON’T CALL US REFUGEES!“
You can’t be further away from Germany. I’m standing on a little hill in the northwest of the island Vanua Levu, that is part of the state territory of Fiji. As a child and reader of Mickey Mouse Magazine I learned early that if you just dug deep enough you would get out on the other side of the world. From Germany that would be Australia. But maybe you dig a bit askew, and then you would end up here.
Vanua Levu lies peacefully in front of, next to and behind me, the ocean can be seen on the horizon as well, and nature chirps away in the evening sun. But the idyll, if it ever existed, has gotten cracks lately. And Sade Marika, village elder of Naviavia, increases it with every syllable of his speech. The people in his village are really anxious, he tells me. The Kiribati, one of the island nations in the South Pacific that is threatened by the sea-level rise, have bought land here from the Church of England (how they once obtained this land is one of the dark chapters of the missionary world conquest) some time ago. Officially to farm, unofficially it has already been talked about resettlement. Although they have emphasized, at a meeting, that the inhabitants of Naviavia have nothing to fear from and are able to keep their land no strings attached. But the fear is nonetheless spreading in their heads. The irony of this: the Naviavia only just came here a couple of generations ago from the Salmon Islands, as slaves of the colonial power United Kingdom, who appropriated Fiji and further parts of the South Pacific.
Well, now I’m standing not even one week after the elections in Berlin, and the second big success of AfD in Germany in a short time, at the other end of the world and experience the same shit of fears, prejudices and aggressions between people here:
My land, your land – and surely not our shared land.
It’s the beginning of a trip through the South Pacific, on which I’m going to meet a lot of people, whose familiar existence is threatened by climate change, and who, no matter if they want or not, have to deal with thoughts of resettlement. Usually, and that is common for all, this primarily means a categorial: “We do not want to leave our land!”
They all emphasize, no matter if they are political, clerical or public representatives, that they are not ready to give up their home, because of a process not caused by them, but by the Western Industrialized Nations and their lifestyle that is based on ruthless exploitation and capitalist maximizing. At every table, that I sat at during the three weeks of travel, compliance of the agreements, reached in Paris during COP21, is being claimed, just as if the reduction of global warming to 1,5 degrees could turn back the wheels of natural history with absolute certainty. That’s what hope in the realm of hopeless is like – and justifiably so, because not trying it would be tantamount to capitulation.
The statement that impressed me the most came from Reverend Tafue Lusama from the Church of Tuvalu: “Don’t call us climate refugees! We are not refugees. We prefer the expression migrants caused by climate!”
Of course you immediately understand what he means. It’s the emphasize of the own innocence. Something that , after you let it sink, promptly brings up the question what makes Syrian people be refugees and not migrants caused by war. They are setting words and feelings connected to them, and therefore you do not even have to analyze them comparative, but just have to respect it and, building on it, draw conclusions for the contact to any type of refugees:
Who are we, to presume that we can classify these people, no matter where they are from and what the reason for it is?
Where did we get our cultivated arrogance in the togetherness with them that is already expressed in an ascription of terms like refugee or in a process definition like integration, when it ideally should be about finding ascriptions that emphasize the thought of the collectively defined, new social space and standing together at eye level?
We all admittedly know how horrible the current situation is Syria, but who will show us images about how these people lived before the war, so we finally can understand that they had to give something up – und rather not, as we in our Western snootyness and with the world-champion-like ability to feel ourselves as the navel of the world, as escape to our promised land.
In the South Pacific I have learned that the West is in no way a promised land for the inhabitants of the island states. To them the West is in the South and Southeast and is called Australia and New Zealand and migrants from states like Tuvalu are treated there like lepers; only the most promising are accepted, after they have mercilessly examined their health value and life perspective – notwithstanding a yearly acceptance guaranty that had something different in mind. In New Zealand, reports Sailosi Ramatu, the village elder of Vunidogoloa, the world wide first village resettled because of climate change, they are housed in Wellington, in a settlement behind the airport, away from the normal residential areas. Not a trace of the “migration at eye level, that Tafue Lusama dreams of.
I experience where this is going at a school in Tuvalu, where we talk to three pupils, aged 13 and 14, Fialupe Solomona, Velma O’Brien and Raijeli Isala. Two of them have migration-related family experiences in New Zealand – that brought the families back to Tuvalu, although it is heavily endangered by climate change, and the highest point of which is just 4 metes above sea level. But because of the lacking community involvement, the absence of their natural habitat, which is so important to them, and especially the way in which they were met, brought them to do this drastic step. And now the kids are recounting – not without smirking and not without tongue-in-cheek: why shouldn’t teenagers here behave like teenagers all over the world? – what their parents rammed down their throats:
“We will not leave our home!”
“We are proud of Tuvalu!”
“We would rather die here, than being treated as inferior people in New Zealand!”
This is a lot to process. And then suddenly a very stark, little statement: “Please don’t get me wrong, but we are not like the Africans, refugees without possessions. We do have a home.”
That’s how the hierarchical game works: one always feels better then the rest.
This brings us back to the hill on Vanua Levu and Sade Marika. The sun has almost set. He doesn’t want to hear the positive voices from his village, introduced by those inhabitants who are seeing a chance of getting closer to their potential new neighbors from Kiribati, and who go as far as to talk about mixed relations. Fear simply makes a bad advisor.
Some of the first images I saw after my return have been produced in Dresden and showed what the AfD cares about on the anniversary of German unification. Just like you would have expected: nothing particularly nice.
You are wishing that they would dig a hole into the earth, so deep that they would get out at the other side of the world. Instead of permanently creating weird projections of the world in their mind, it would be good for them to seek the dialogue with people from the Fijis, Tuvalu and Syria – and thereby learn little by little to understand how it feels to live their lives and how they would act in their situation.
If people from the South Pacific, or Syria or wherever have to get on such a dramatic, life changing journey, if those people at the other end decide they have to set out to get on the way, then there is something we all should never forget: They are not coming to take something from you, but because they lost every thing at home.
(Translation by Denise Oemcke)