(photograph © Kiwidutch)
This archive post finds us in the Römerberg, the historic centre of Frankfurt, and having taken a look at the beautiful buildings around us, my attention is now dawn to an ornate statue and fountain close by. It’s called “Gerechtigkeitsbrunnen” (Fountain of Justice) and before I get to know more about it, I am distracted by an observation close by.
It was difficult to get photographs of the fountain because a family appeared to have installed themselves on the only seat, which happened to be the best direction to get photographs (the other side looked directly into the sun) .
At first I assumed they must be waiting for someone but closer observation (without being obvious that I was looking of course) revealed that the family had three children with them and at one end of the bench seat there were a few shopping bags and a sports bag, but at the other end a small mountain of possessions, mostly in large cheap plastic striped shopping bags.
They certainly looked more like they were homeless than tourists on the move. I move slowly on crutches, so we were in the square for a while: they were there when we arrived and still there when we left so I was left wondering if they did have somewhere to sleep that night.
Poverty and homelessness is of course a big problem in every big city around the world, the language that they called out to their children in wasn’t German but appeared to be one of the old eastern block languages … my first instincts were for guessing Romanian / Bulgarian / Hungarian since there has been a recent surge in number of immigrants coming to wealthier European countries in the west. I’m assuming that they are economic migrants (because 99 % of them are) and this a decisive issue in Europe at the moment.
(photograph © Kiwidutch)
On one side of the coin, who can blame someone living on the breadline for wanting a better life?
From experience they are often less educated people who have been backed into a corner by the cost of corruption and decisions made by leaders who have lined their own pockets and lost contact with the cost of living and the wages of the majority of the population.
People in poverty look for light at the end of the tunnel and think that the West holds the answer to their prayers and dreams. Often they are conned by shady “travel guides” (who are borderline people traffickers) who charge families their life savings and/or huge loans to come to the west on the promise that jobs are plentiful, work is easy, the sun always shines, wages are enormous, they will be rich beyond their wildest dreams compared to where they live now, all houses are mansions etc.
Naturally with the promise of this utopian paradise, they hand over their life savings as the “deposit” and sign up to contracts that require them to pay back an evil amount of money in as the “remainder of the loan”and “interest” which will then take years or decades to pay back.
They arrive to the stark reality that they are not wanted in their new countries of hope, jobs, houses, education, health care are all difficult issues, skills they may have are not of a standard that are readily transferable, and that for the unskilled, the only jobs on offer are by unscrupulous employers who take advantage of their position and want long hours of work for below the minimum wage.
(photograph © Kiwidutch)
The alternative to sleeping on the streets is often to share a single family sized accommodation with one other or more families, often being charged a disproportionately high amount of “rent” for the space and utilities used. All they want is a better life than the scrapings at the bottom of the barrel that were on offer at home, to give their children hope for a better future and to be free from the corrupt societies that reward and favour those who cream off the wealth instead of distributing it fairly.
If you were them, and without knowing anything about the reality of what you would be going to, you were promised a better life would you not also think it might be a good chance to improve your lot?
On the other side of the coin, reality is that not all people in richer western European countries are rich.
We contribute to the gross national product of our countries though our work, but also have to contend with rent, mortgages, study fees, the cost of living and we pay tax.
From these taxes we expect a decent eduction for our children, hospital care when we need it, social housing for those on the lowest incomes, care for the disabled, and secure help for the frail and the elderly once they can no longer manage in their own homes.
I personally, here in the Netherlands can get a same day or within two days appointment with my GP, and in an emergency as a regular COPD patient can get the same from my hospital lung specialist, so I was shocked to hear that in the United Kingdom it can now be normal to take two weeks to get an appointment with your family doctor and many people can’t find a new dentist willing to take them as patients when they move house as the dental practice already as long waiting lists.
(photograph © Kiwidutch)
Often it’s not immigrants per see that locals object to but rather the high volume of them who have arrived in a very short space of time. Locals cite instances of friends and family who work full time in low wage jobs, who have been years on waiting lists for cheaper social housing, who then look on in dismay as social housing is allocated to immigrant families who can’t speak the local language, often are not in work because they are forbidden to do so whilst their asylum applications are processed and who they see as being “rewarded” in spite of not having “contributed” to society.
Long gone are the days when getting a job was easy: the world wide economic crisis has bought budget cuts, reduction of hours, redundancies and a lot of uncertainty in the job market.
Belts have been tightened a notch, then another and another. Come companies stay alive from one order to another and owners live in fear that they will have to deliver bad news to employees if the next order doesn’t eventuate.Almost every week newspaper headlines tells us of another household-name company in trouble and staff cuts.
The populations of richer countries rightly argue that they do not owe anything to people who are mostly economic migrants who did not relocate for reasons of life and death, and made decisions that they now expect others to pick up the tab for. They argue that there are not unlimited resources and that we can not accommodate everyone who wishes for a better life, that a countries own nationals need to come first.
There are two sides of this coin and I can empathise with both to a large degree. For me it is a difficult topic, I’m not pro unlimited immigration but I’m definitely not anti-immigration either. Finding a fair and wise balance between the two is a minefield that I’m glad that someone other than me gets to take responsibility for. For each side of the coin there are deeply personal stories that pull opinion one way or the other.
Somehow something needs to be done in countries where corruption is endemic, corruption, paybacks and nepotism are rife. In an ideal world entire systems need to change but I fear that unless someone of great stature and character rises up in these countries, someone who is prepared to challenge and turn the “old regime” on it’s head, then things will never change.
I worry that without the backing of the groundswell of public opinion, such a leader would face at the very least an uphill struggle and at worst sacrifice their own personal safety in their attempt to thwart the corrupt.
Until the day comes when all nations are financially equal, there will continue to be a human tide of migrants, dreaming of a better life, facing the harsh reality, sitting on a bench seat in a touristic city centre with all of their worldly goods in shabby cheap striped shopping bags, trying to navigate life in the shadow of The Fountain of Justice.