Refugee: “The Emerging Welcome Culture: Solidarity instead of Paternalism” Commentary by Sunny Omwenyeke

Most critical left voices that traditionally support refugees have become silent, as they have been ‘sucked into welcoming refugees’ even as the government continues to pass punishing and unprecedented laws for refugees.nThe increased number of asylum seekers in Germany (compared to other European countries) in the last two years and the purportedly kind and generous opening of the borders by Chancellor Angela Merkel have no doubt boosted the image of the country as a welcoming haven for refugees fleeing wars and insecurity in far flung countries. Pictures and videos of German citizens who lined up at train stations to welcome these new refugees on arrival with bottles of water and snacks only served to accentuate this ‘welcoming image’ internationally. Domestically, countless local “Refugees Welcome” initiatives have developed in virtually every cities and towns to support these new refugees. Business leaders urged the government to keep the borders further ajar for more refugees to come into Germany. Conservative politicians that are traditionally anti-refugee could not resist the allure of ‘refugees welcome’ as they started to sing the same songs of welcome. It was so enticing! Even in football stadiums ‘refugees welcome’ banners suddenly replaced the often racist, macho and homophobic chants and insults you would normally hear. On the surface it seems like the sudden urge to welcome refugees has culminated in a wave that has changed the country. Any doubts about it have been repelled by the retort: “Wir schaffen das”. The hard core however remains in the old mind set. They continue to attack and burn refugee shelters in different regions while their cohorts applaud their commitment and success. This is the conundrum that is the new Germany with a new culture, the “Welcome Culture”. What a change!nTo be sure, I will rather have the ‘welcome culture’ than the prevalent ‘Auslander raus’ milieu of the early 1990s. Nevertheless, let us recollect that the authorities have consistently but wrongly fed the populace with misleading information about refugees. For over 20 years, refugees have been continuously demonized as unwanted people in this country, as people who should be subjected to inhuman conditions to force them out of here as separate and discriminating laws like the ABLG have been made for them. They have been deliberately isolated, and criminalized for daring to exercise their right to freedom of movement. In otherwords, the authorities have fed and fanned the fears, (however genuine or misplaced that fear may have been) and prodded the populace to see refugees as those who are neither wanted nor should be here.nSuddenly the welcome culture: The dearth of reflection in this emergent culture is, to say the least, exceedingly baffling. Lurking beneath this new culture are certain beliefs and attitudes that have simply refused to change. They are like old habits, they die hard.nFirst, many expect the refugees to be grateful for living in a Tent or Sport Hall as there are no bombs falling on their heads, and chide the refugees for complaining about the conditions. They hardly ever pause for a minute to reflect on where the bombs are coming from in the first place. The veracity of the Caravan slogan: “We are here because you destroy our countries” is now beyond any doubt as Die Linke has recently taken to it as a theme of public discourse. Yet, there is a high degree of self-gratification, self- applauding and feel-good-spirit by many in the welcome initiatives because they are able to collect second hand clothes and shoes for these ‘poor refugees’ – most of which eventually ends up in recycling centres anyway.nMost critical left voices that traditionally support refugees have become silent, as they have been ‘sucked into welcoming refugees’ even as the government continues to pass punishing and unprecedented laws for refugees.nThe lack of critical reflection has concealed the very superficial nature of the welcome culture as the New Year event in Cologne showed. Within a few hours, the refugees that were “welcomed” instantly became pariahs as a whole set of people were stigmatized to facilitate the rehabilitation of the idea of the ‘unwanted’.nTherefore before we pat ourselves on the back, we should remember that at stake is an issue of justice and not philanthropy, it is a matter of solidarity not paternalism. The refugee struggle for justice demands solidarity and empathy not paternalism and unbridled diplomacy that serve to stabilize the unjust and oppressive system worldwide.nMore information


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