A friend once shared a famous quote with me as if he’d thought it up himself: The only constant is change. This very straightforward, yet difficult to accept concept is attributed to Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher dating back to 500 BCE.
I’ve become very familiar with this ancient concept as I moved from one state to another while living in the U.S.; one country to another in the last five years. I’d like to say I’m somewhat comfortable in that role of constant change, but I’d be lying. Knowing change is a constant and embracing it are two very different things.
One major difference of living in the U.S. and living in Western Europe, is that if you read the world news, a lot of the world events happening are much closer by. It is harder to keep that healthy (?) distance between events unfolding two countries over, and you are confronted–for better or for worse–with how interconnected the world is.
Nothing could bring this point further home than the current refugee crisis. It’s not so much a crisis, but an End of the World as We Know it. Don’t take REM’s word for it. Don’t take my word for it. But take the World Bank’s and the International Monetary Funds’ words for it:
As migrants and refugees from Africa and the Middle East continue to arrive in Europe in unprecedented numbers, a new World Bank/IMF report says that large-scale migration from poor countries to richer regions of the world will be a permanent feature of the global economy for decades to come as a result of major population shifts in countries. (World Bank Report, October 7, 2015)
Is this some vague, far away concept? Hell no. The refugees of war and poverty, the immigrants who see no future in their home countries, are flocking to Europe in record breaking numbers, and many European nations are flying by the seat of their pants trying to figure out what to do with these humans, even though this sort of fluctuation has been long predicted (for about 20 years!) as an unavoidable result of inequality and poverty.
The Netherlands must be employing it’s expertise in flood management, because
despite the fact that this tiny country of 17 million is already densely populated, they are converting empty government buildings into housing; informing residents of refugee shelters coming into their neighborhoods and implementing other strategies to address the human flood of hopeful future Dutch citizens.
One such conversion of an empty government building into a refugee shelter is happening four blocks from my house, where 600 refugees, mostly men, will soon receive temporary shelter. In January 2016, the building will be renovated for longer term housing for refugees who gain status to live and work in the Netherlands.
Is this a good or bad thing? It depends on who you ask. As soon as the city found out that the COA* had decided to turn this building into a shelter, they responded by sending a letter to residents in the immediate neighborhood. Despite the two day notice, over nine hundred citizens showed up to hear about the new shelter.
According to an acquaintance of mine that attended, about 40% were against the idea of this shelter (NOT IN MY BACKYARD) and 60% were not only in favor, but there to see how they could help.
For all of those who view the refugee presence as a threat, I understand. They are putting a demand on already limited resources; asking us to share a piece of pie we were pretty much planning to eat on our own. We have no idea of the long-term ramifications, and our current optimism may burn out as we realize this is not a temporary thing, but a culture change.
Change is scary. Change brings out fear. Fear is a strong motivator. In fact, in most cases the very motivator that sent these humans–not so very different than ourselves–fleeing in rickety boats across a rough sea. They’d rather risk their own lives, than stay where they were. That is a human flood as inevitable as the floods brought on by global warming.
I for one am excited that the refugees are here. Perhaps naively so, perhaps rightfully so, but this “refugee issue” is no longer in a different country, in a different city, but right here at our doorstep, and the majority of the people in my community want to help. I’m not talking about knitting afghans and letting them eat cake. I’m talking about assessing their needs, rather than guessing at their needs, and coming together as a community to serve those needs, while not undermining our own. As in all things, keeping the balance.
And on top of that, the World Bank report goes on to say that this population shift “while posing challenges, offers a path to ending extreme poverty and shared prosperity if the right evidence-based policies are put in place nationally and internationally . . . ” (Read the full article here.)
Perhaps the joke will be on me and I won’t be as flexible as I tend to think I am. Maybe I’ll be the one clinging desperately to the way things are now, but if that happens, I’m just going to crank up the REM and give a nod to Heraclitus to remind me of how things are, and go with it.
- COA = Centraal Orgaan opvang asielzoekers–Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers.
- Translation of text on pictures: Ik wil gewoon toekomst. “I just want a future.” Vluchten doe je niet voor de lol. “You don’t flee just for kicks/ for fun.”