The Deadly Treatment of Refugees in Europe
My first cousin Ljilja is married to a man named Muhamed. They used to live in Bijeljina, a Bosnian border town overrun at the start of the 1992 war by the Serb troops gunning to cleanse the country of its Muslims. Fearing for his life, Muhamed paid a stranger to take him across the river to Serbia, where he could go into hiding. A few days later, Ljilja left her job as a teacher and boarded a bus to follow him with their baby son, Damir. At the border, she was afraid they might be turned back or thrown into the river. Luckily, her documents were checked by a former student who let them through. Soon thereafter, Serb paramilitaries beat Muhamed’s father to death.
The family ended up in France. For sixteen months, they lived in a refugee facility: one small room, two families, crowded bunk beds. It took Damir a while to start talking, but then it was both in Bosnian and French. Once they got their staying papers, the local government provided them with a tiny apartment. It was perfectly empty — no furniture, no beds, no stove, no fridge, nothing. All they had were two duffel bags of baby clothes given to them by the Red Cross. Soon Muhamed’s cousin sent some stuff, including a crib, she’d collected from her French friends. For a while, Ljilja and Muhamed slept on the floor. Muhamed sought a job desperately, his obviously Muslim name an impediment. They had to use a soup kitchen more than once.
Long story short: at the age of ten, Damir builds his first robot; at fifteen he writes code to control via the Internet another robot he constructed. Presently, at twenty-five, he’s in a Ph.D. program at Université Paris-Sud in Orsay, the top artificial intelligence research institute in France, among the top five in the world. He feels 80 percent French, 20 percent Bosnian. When I meet him, I see the future that is beyond me, and cannot begin to imagine the things he’s capable of doing.
Meanwhile, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, governing since the November 13 Paris attacks over an indefinite state of emergency, insists that refugees “destabilize our societies.” Katie Hopkins, a UK tabloid “columnist” and a devout Trumpist, has written, “These migrants are like cockroaches. They might look a bit ‘Bob Geldof’s Ethiopia circa 1984,’ but they are built to survive a nuclear bomb.” Masked thugs in Stockholm randomly beat refugee children; the encampment in the French town of Calais has been raided by anti-refugee goons; a German anti-Islam group, PEGIDA, has staged rallies all over the continent. Europe might not have a common refugee policy, but it’s certainly developing a common ethics.