One would have to be living under a rock to be unaware of the migrant crisis facing Europe at the moment. For a while, it was all we saw on television, then Greece’s woes became more pressing. But once again media coverage has shone its spotlight on the plight of people from Africa and the Middle East making that perilous journey to reach Europe’s shores. It is hard to switch off, change channels – or do whatever it is one could do to bury their head in the sand and wish this reality away.
I have never been one to shield my children from the realities of the world by not letting them watch the news. Which was how I found my son glued to the television, as once again, France24 covered yet another story of a boat sinking off the coast of Italy. Even though we hear it more often than we should, it has not numbed us to the tragedy of the lives lost there. And for this I am glad.
It has become an odd fascination with him, with the questions coming at a rapid-fire pace: “Why are they coming to Europe?” Because of the war in their countries. Because they want a better life. Because they are coming here to look for jobs. “But why don’t they just fly?” Because they don’t have money for air tickets, or passports, or legal documents. “But why don’t the people in Italy want them there?” Because it is expensive for them to save all those people, and to feed them, and to return to their home countries. “I would just stay in South Africa”, is how he ended that conversation. I suppose the irony was lost on him that he came to this conclusion, sitting in his home, in France.
I have felt, since then, a need to make him aware that our being in France is not that different from the people he was watching on television who wanted to get to France, or to the UK or to Germany. To explain to him that we are as much migrants as they are. All in a bid to raising a more tolerant and aware child. What makes us different? Only that we are not here to stay beyond the job that brought us here. That for us there is a home country for us to return to, and that it is in having that choice that gives him the privilege to say: “I would just stay in South Africa”.
I don’t overwhelm him with the information. After all, words like migrant – political or economic, immigrant, asylum seeker, are not a part of his vocabulary yet. But he understands perfectly well that we will one day move from France. That some of his friends will stay on permanently as their parents make the decision to make France their home. That others will return to their own home countries or move on to the next country as their parents’ migration needs change. But above all, he understands that because none of them are French, they are also immigrants in the broader definition of the word. I think he gets it. And more importantly, I think he gets that it is in how we got here, versus those migrants arriving in Lampedusa and Ventimiglia, that is the only difference between them and us.