News September 2015

Payback – Part One

One of the key principles of Aboriginal society is ‘pay back’. In Aboriginal culture you give, because one day you may have nothing. And then you ‘pay back’ because someone gave to you. That ethic has sustained Aboriginal life and culture and helped them survive on one of the harshest continents on earth.

Last weekend more than 23.000 refugees arrived in Austria. They came via Hungary, Croatia and Slovenia. And there is no end in sight. They all have one goal: to get their family, their children, to safety. At the end of their strength, already having been on the road for weeks.

People have been forced to leave their countries since the very notion of country was created. What makes them leave their homes, where did they go, and what became of them? Let’s look back.

– The earliest were the Israelites, 740 BC. 10 of the 12 tribes were expelled when Assyrian rulers conquered their land.

– In 1685, through the Edict of Fontainebleau, Huguenots risked state persecution under Louis XIV. Around 200.000 fled, coming to England, Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Scandinavia and Russia.

– During the Ottoman Empire, 1783, 5 – 7 million Muhacirs (Muslims) arrived from other countries (Caucasus, Crimea, Crete, Greece, Romania and Yugoslavia) in what is today Turkey. Their descendants remain there today.

– The Pogroms in Russia, starting 1881 with the assassination of Tsar Alexander II, prompted a mass exodus of around 2 million Jews towards the UK, US and elsewhere in Europe.

– World War I, 1914: The German invasion of Belgium led to an exodus of more than a million people. After Austria-Hungary invaded Serbia, tens of thousands of Serbians were forced to leave their homes. And under the Ottoman empire the Armenian population was decimated through systematic persecution. Half of that population was dead by 1918, hundreds of thousands were homeless and stateless refugees.

– World War II, 1945: By the time the war ended there were more than 40 million refugees in Europe alone. Even before the end of the war, thousands of Germans began to flee Eastern Europe. The remaining were forcibly removed. In Czechoslovakia, more than 2 million were dumped over the border. In Poland, Germans were rounded up and removed by authorities. In Romania, around 400.000 left their homes, Yugoslavia virtually emptied its 500.000 strong German community. (Ref: Mona Chalabi, The Guardian)

In situations like this the way people react and act can make a difference. Right now we seem to be the privileged ones, the ones living in countries desirable enough to have a new start. A country where you can go to sleep in the evening knowing that the chances of waking up in the morning are higher than the ones being killed – it is up to us to invite the lost people, the deserted ones, and make space. Where would you go to keep safe? To ensure a safe future for your children? To protect your family?

‘No one has ever become poor by giving.’ (Anne Frank, Diary of Anne Frank)


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