Saturday, May 11, 2013


I remember being 15 and passing through the airport at Washington D.C. I saw a coloured man being taken away by border police. Handcuffed, carried by his hands and feet, struggling, shouting: “I am not a criminal!”
I believed him instantly. He may have been carrying drugs or arms. I don’t know. It is likely that his ‘crime’ had been passing through the airport as an illegal immigrant.

I was reminded of this incident by the campaign slogan of Amnesty International right now in Holland. It translates to: “I am deeply ashamed”…and I feel embarrassed as I did at 15. I like to think we are more humane in Europe. I like to think we all remember that we are only lucky to have been born free and safe.

I read the story of Sita Tumba and her brother Hans (a Dutch name as his father had moved to Holland by the time that Hans was born). They come from a country where her mother was taken by rebels from Rwanda. I have read about the Democratic Republic of Congo. ‘Democratic republic’ sounds lovely, but there are many villages where every woman knows exactly what it’s like to be raped.

Do we welcome those who have fled from war torn situations? Do we tell them they are safe now? No, we put them in cells where they are reminded that no one has ever respected them as a person. They are body-searched, turned upside down to make sure they do not harm themselves physically as we are about to once again harm their souls. Their lives are put on a hold as we try to determine whether they would continue breathing if they were to be sent back to their traumatic beginnings.

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