The Immigrant Problem: Men create immigrants and refugees

~by Dr. Martha Bireda

Editor’s note: Dr. Martha Bireda, director of the Blanchard House Museum of African American Culture in Charlotte County, FL, studies and writes about African Americans, Jim Crow in America and other issues of inequality in columns for the Charlotte Sun Newspaper in Port Charlotte, FL and Wall Street International, an online magazine dedicated to culture, issues and events relating to daily life. This is a guest column in place of “A Column by Colleen O’Brien.”

In some instances, the powerful hand of Mother Nature in the form of drought, flood, earthquake, forest fire and blight forces groups of people from their homes. It is most often, however, the brutal and inhumane actions of men that account for the creation of immigrant refugee classes.

Consider the Irish who most certainly would have preferred their beautiful emerald isle to anywhere else in the world but for the starvation and death imposed by 800 years of oppressive British rule. The Irish Potato Famine, or The Great Irish Famine of 1845-1852, was said to have been caused by a fungal blight that wiped out the potato. One million died of starvation and disease and 2 million emigrated during those famine years. Three out of four settled in the United States. Entire villages and towns in Ireland were deserted.

The Irish became a conquered group, British colonial subjects, and a mythology was created to rationalize their oppression and to blame the Irish for the misfortune caused by others. The Irish, the majority of whom were Catholic farmers, were stereotyped as lazy, backward, promiscuous and uncivilized. The truth of the matter is that the Irish had no land rights; they worked in a system akin to sharecropping in the United States. The potato, the staple food of the poor, accounted for only 20 percent of the crops grown in Ireland. Poor farm laborers starved while fields rich with wheat, rye, barley and oats were exported to Britain and other countries. Ireland at the time was a colonial food-producer, and the Irish farmworkers were not allowed to eat the food they produced. The Irish starved and succumbed to disease because they were denied access to food by their landlords. The greed and policies of men created the Great Irish Migration.

Today, in France, the majority of immigrants are from former French colonies in North and sub-Saharan Africa. France is now home to 6 million Muslims, the largest number in Western Europe. The dislike for this Muslim minority has grown. Many are the Harki and their descendants who fled Algeria after the savage Algerian War; they defended colonial France against Algerian independence fighters and when they lost had to flee to France.

These immigrants, although classified as French, have always been “the other” in France. As members of a caste minority, they have faced systematic discrimination in employment, housing and education. Since their arrival, they have been treated as second-class citizens. They don’t feel accepted in the country in which they were made “French” by force.

In France, the current leading far-right candidate is promising to deny Muslims the right to religious freedom. As members of a minority in France, these black and brown Muslims have not been assimilated into French society. But the French must realize that the Algerian Muslims, like other North Africans, would not be in France if their own countries had never lived under the oppressive colonization of the French. What the French have conveniently forgotten is that “they are here because you were there.”

Immigrants and refugees are arriving daily in Europe from nations in the Middle East. While President Trump has issued his dictum banning Muslims from seven Muslim nations, the reality of the situation must be faced honestly. People do not leave their homelands, the place of their birth, the ground in which their ancestors are buried unless life there is untenable. The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria have produced a refugee crisis of epic proportions.

If not for the invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Libya, the overthrowing of their governments, the killing of their leaders, the destruction of these once great ancient societies there would be no need for camps, aid or the establishment of sanctuary cities. For these millions of people who have witnessed the death of their children, spouses, family members; the destruction of their homes; the devastation of their societies, “going away” as the Irish named it, is their only solution.

It is the responsibility of those who created the conditions for this Great Migration of the 21st Century to take in and care for this group of immigrants without hesitation or complaint. This human catastrophe is not the doing of God but the brutal handiwork of men.

Do we believe that it is really enough to give charity rather than rising up in the name of justice and demanding an end to greed, the exploitation of the resources of others, the instigation of tribal conflicts, the overthrow of governments?

When will we understand that there will be “No Peace” until generations have stopped telling the stories and shedding tears for the pain of their children, families and ancestors. The collective memory of the immigrant of being forced from one’s home will not fade quickly. Don’t tell the Irish to forget that they starved to death while they watched food being sent abroad. Don’t blame Muslims in France for harboring anger because of the savage war waged against them in Algeria. Don’t believe that the Iraqis, Afghans and Syrians will forget that once they lived in countries that were part of the first civilized nations of the world.

When will men and governments learn that through their greed and quest for power they are the ones creating immigrant problems? Can they even imagine the broken bodies, hearts and spirits of those who not so long ago sat in a family circle enjoying a meal together, looking forward to a peaceful night’s sleep and the beauty of the next day? When will the good people of the world try to put themselves in the place of the family who once had a home, perhaps a market and a normal life? When will good people stop thinking that it is enough to send aid and protect immigrants after the fact? When will they have the courage to stop their governments from creating the conditions that produce immigrants?

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