Systemic racism kills
Text by Romy Bornscheuer, translated by Cati Ana Moragues
It is the constant horror, pain and brutality that makes me tired. A feeling of powerlessness and anger.
It is dark and dusty. Frustration hangs in the air. The queue to the clinic gets longer every day and the rules are clear: only those who won’t make it to tomorrow are allowed in. All the others will be dismissed. The next in line is an elderly man wearing an old faded shirt, his eyes filled with tears, his hands strong, but with scars, a reminder of past experiences that go beyond what we will ever be able to understand. It took this Afghan man three hours to reach the clinic and he suffers terrible back pains; he can barely move. However, he’ll survive. At least for today, for Moria kills slowly.
The refugees have survived bombs and shootings. They have lost family members and friends. Yet what Europe is doing to them goes beyond the limits of what is imaginable: the looks of hatred from fascists, the blows from the police, the brutality and despotism, the dehumanisation: “I would have rather died at home, because here I’m dying every day. Slowly and in agony.“
I sent him back, there’s no time, I need to attend the next family. I find it difficult to look him in the eyes: “You are not an emergency case. Please try again tomorrow.” Yet the voice inside me cries: “You’re a person. I see you, your pain, your incredible strength. It tears me apart to see how Europe is treating you.”
The next patient is a 17-day old baby, who’s said to have fever. I check her temperature, 37.4°C: normal temperature. Her mum looks at me worried: “She hasn’t been sleeping for two days, the fever doesn’t go down. I gave her our neighbours’ fever syrup.” I send her back. I also send back the Congolese with severe migraine and the woman who asks for a vaccine for her children. This evening there’ll be many more going back unattended.
We leave the camp shortly after midnight. I can barely sleep; anger keeps me awake. Anger towards people’s ignorance, towards the Europeans’ ignorance, who have become so good at looking away; towards all those who believe in the illusion of the European Union to protect themselves. It hurts deeply to see how a continent revolves around itself, how it places a halo around itself and at the same time abandons people on dinghy boats in the open sea. A system that focuses on its own protection keeping problems behind its external borders, or what’s even worse, paying third countries, like Libya or Turkey, to block people in need of help. Politicians playing down the atrocities occurring in the prisons of torture or describing the use of weapons as “fake news”.
Fascism is a serious menace in the island of Lesbos and in many other places in Europe. In the past few days minor refugees were attacked and streets were blocked. However, the biggest problem is systemic racism, Europe’s arrogance. Our lifestyle based on the exploitation of other countries. The belief that we are worth more. The privileges we are unaware of. Our naïve “white” view towards what is happening at Europe’s borders. Our acceptance of other humans living in cages. Our normalizing it when people are treated worse than animals, when they are not even granted basic rights such as access to food and water.
I would really like to turn my anger into something productive, into political demands and meaningful sentences. Because people in Moria have put their trust on us —they believed in the European narrative of freedom, democracy and solidarity. But so much needs to change for this narrative to become true for asylum seekers and refugees. Being white, European, comes with certain privileges. Maybe there’s nothing I can’t do to prevent that. However, it is my responsibility to stand for protection and safety as universal rights for all people, and not to understand them as privileges that come with being European. For if I looked away, I would become part of the masses that sustain our system.