This summer, I listened to a number of disturbing stories on the BBC about migrants, many of them African, undertaking horrific journeys filled with risk and terror. If they get far enough, their efforts usually culminate in a Mediterranean crossing, the result of a desperate attempt to reach Europe. Many are fleeing war-torn lives and economic hardship or both with the hopes of starting over in a country where they’re safe and can find work to support themselves and their families. This weekend alone, 4,400 migrants were rescued off the coast of Libya, making it one of the largest single day rescues ever (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34028487). The number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean this year tops more than a quarter of a million (!) – and counting.
These images and stories are in such sharp contrast to the experience of arriving in Europe by way of sleek airplanes which convey passengers to modern airports which double as expansive malls. I was recently on sabbatical in Uganda and on my way back to the US, I caught a connecting flight in Brussels. When I arrived from Entebbe @ 7am local time and made my way to section B of the airport, at that hour, it was filled with hundreds of Africans, who presumably, like me, had layovers and were waiting for their connecting flights. We lined up for coffee @ Starbucks, perused the Samsonite luggage on sale and then found comfortable chairs to nap on. At one point, I saw a family of 12 sitting across from each other in pairs, laughing and talking over inviting plates of eggs, bacon, sausage, bread and tea.
I dare say most (maybe all?) of us in the airport that day who’d come from various cities in Africa, including Dakar, Abijan, and Kigali, were not migrants. Some were likely on holiday; perhaps others were returning after a trip to their homeland. But the gap between those who can afford to experience Europe in this way and those who risk everything for the shores of Italy could not be more wide.
How privileged some of us are — and how tragic the lives of others of us are.
It’s a sobering reality to contemplate…