Refugees

Salvadoran Refugee and Daughter Drowned While Attempting to Swim the Rio Grande

The photograph above of the bodies of a Salvadoran refugee and his two-year-old daughter will be the iconic image of our president’s attempt to stem the tide of immigration from so-called “shithole countries” to the south. I have visited a number of these countries and found myself admiring the people I met.

Many of these refugees are Guatemalan Maya escaping the bad government that has dogged their country ever since 1954, when the United States deposed President Juan Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán in a coup d’état for daring to oppose the destructive policies of the United Fruit Company. I guess that made him a Communist in the eyes of the U.S. State Department under John Foster Dulles. Ever since 1954, Guatemala has been ruled mostly by rightist generals, some of whom, like the infamous Kjell Eugenio Laugerud García and José Efraín Ríos Montt went in for large-scale genocide of the indigenous population. Some 200,000 Maya men, women, and children lost their lives.

Jacobo Arbenz, Deposed President of Guatemala

Since 1996, the scale of the killings has abated, but not stopped. Under Jimmy Morales, Guatemala is not an entirely safe place unless one has renounced indigenous ways. That’s why many of the refugees from Central America are Maya from Guatemala.

I have also gone across the border into Honduras (to see the Maya ruins at Copán). If I thought Guatemala was a poor country, as soon as I crossed the border into Honduras, I saw that the economic situation was more dire. That, plus one of the country’s largest cities, San Pedro Sula, was ruled by criminal gangs and, for a while, was the murder capital of the world.

My concern is that the United States under Trump is slowly turning into a shithole country. If so, where will we go for aid? And will we be welcomed? Not likely.

 

Letters of Transit

Prop from the Film Casablanca: The Letter of Transit

I have just finished reading a magnificent novel by Anna Seghers entitled Transit (1944). At the time it was being written—around 1942—a film entitled Casablanca was being made starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. The film’s “maguffin,” as Alfred Hitchcock would have called it, are certain letters of transit that have been stolen from Nazi authorities allowing the bearer to leave Morocco for any desired destination.

Such was the film’s premise. Above is the prop used as the Letter of Transit, duly filled out in the name of Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) and wife. Note, however, that the issuer is the “State of France.” At the end of the film, the Laszlos fly to Lisbon from Casablanca, en route to the United States. Strictly speaking, the so-called Letter of Transit is only an exit visa and does not bear the stamp of the Portuguese consul, let alone the American one.

Transit by Anna Seghers

Anna Segher’s novel tells the tale of refugees from the approaching Nazi terror gathered in Marseilles, trying vainly to collect the series of official papers that would:

  1. Allow them to leave Marseilles legally. The document above appears to be an exit visa rather than a letter of transit.
  2. Pass through other countries en route to their final destination. These are the actual letters of transit, and must be stamped by the consular authorities for each country along the way.
  3. A visa allowing entry to their final destination.
  4. Tickets for transportation along each leg of the journey.

Transit follows various Europeans frantically trying to collect the necessary paperwork before any of the stamped legal papers in their possession expire, which would require them to re-start the process.

Quoted in Segher’s novel is this passage from 2 Corinthians 11:25-26:

Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often; in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils of the city, in perils of the wilderness, in perils of the sea, in perils among false brethren.

More Props: The Passports of Victor Laszlo (Here Misspelled) and Ilsa Lund

The hero of Transit is a German worker and prison camp escapee named Seidler who has assumed the identity of a writer named Weidel who, despairing, had committed suicide in Paris. Curiously, he has no desire to leave Marseilles, finding the city to be a destination in its own right. (It wasn’t: The Germans eventually occupied it.) He runs into Weidel’s wife, is attracted to her, and finally merely helps her to leave, deciding to stay behind:

It’s true, I realized. Everything just passes through me. And that’s why I was still roving about unharmed in a world in which I didn’t know my way well at all. Indeed, even the fit of anger that had decided my life back then in my own country was only temporary. I didn’t stay angry; I wandered around afterward, my anger gone. What I really like is what endures, that which is different from me.

I was so blown away by this book that I regard Seghers as the peer of Thomas Mann and Hermann Hesse, and behind only Franz Kafka (who wrote in German). She is probably best known for The Seventh Cross, which was filmed in 1944 by director Fred Zinnemann starring Spencer Tracy and Signe Hasso. During the Second World War, she lived in Mexico, having escaped Marseilles like some of her characters in Transit. She ended up after the war living in East Germany.

 

The Race to Germanistan

Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Péter Szijjártó

Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Péter Szijjártó

As you may know, I am sympathetic with Hungary’s decision to close its borders to the prospect of uncontrolled mass migration. In doing so, it took a lot of heat from the European Community as well as the U.N. For some quixotic reason, Germany’s Angela Merkel has opened the doors wide to hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa. (Whether the German people will be quite so welcoming remains to be seen.)

Martine and I watched an interview on BBC with Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Péter Szijjártó, a young well-spoken diplomat. The interviewer, Stephen Sackur, kept trying to pillory the Hungarians for acting in a way reminiscent of the darkest days of World War II. (All the while, Britain is less than willing to accept the onslaught of migrants waiting in Calais to stream through the Chunnel.)

Szijjártó correctly sees mass disorganized migration as a violation of sovereignty. He doesn’t want to see his country trashed, its crops trampled down, and its law enforcement officials beaten up for trying to restore order. You can see the 20-minute interview by clicking here.

My own opinion is that the mass migration of 2015 will not end well, neither for the participants, nor the countries along the way, nor for the ultimate destination: Germanistan.

 

I Don’t Blame Hungary

Afghan Men Are Controlled by Hungarian Border Police

Afghan Men Are Controlled by Hungarian Border Police

For the last two weeks, the news has been full of a mighty onslaught of hundreds of thousands of people from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries to Northern Europe, where the streets are paved with gold. The numbers of refugees are almost comparable to those of the Huns, Vandals, Visigoths, Lombards, and Ostrogoths during the later Roman Empire.

That’s why many smaller Balkan and Central European countries have had enough. Rather than be inundated by invasion-strength numbers of mostly Islamic refugees, they have elected to close their borders. Even Germany has to revise its original open borders policy: There are far more than 800,000 refugees currently enroute to being second class citizens in western and northern Europe.

According to a chart published on the BBC website, only a plurality of the migrants between January and August of this year seeking asylum in Germany are from Syria:

Note the large Number of Balkan Refugees

Note the large Number of Balkan Refugees (Source: BBC)

Hungary has been widely attacked for its decision to seal its southern borders and attack crowds trying to break through with tear gas and water cannons. Even Serbia, whose hands are far from clean (note the large number of Serbians seeking refuge) went so far as to call Hungary “uncivilized” for attempting to divert the invasion.

Don’t forget that all of these countries on the road to Austria and Germany had been attacked and occupied by the Turks, in some places until only a hundred years ago. Budapest and other Hungarian cities are still full of Turkish baths and fortifications, with an occasional minaret breaking the skyline. Hungary is one of the two main invasion paths to Western Europe (the other is Poland), and fearful memories among my people are still raw after half a millennium.

Many if not most of the refugees will eventually find homes in Western Europe. Some will find their dreams coming true; some will be poor and unemployed, a prey to jihadist recruiters; some, as in Italy, will sell themselves into prostitution.  The refugees are a diverse bunch, and will undoubtedly be a political football for decades to come.