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Middle East and Africa

Refugee provocation: ‘I am in the right, it’s history that’s in the wrong’

Europe feels that it is invaded by immigrants, but if we look at the situation from the point of view of the southern shore of the Mediterranean, the situation changes.

‘We are easily consoled for the loss of the past: it is the loss of the future that is destroying us’. And again ‘the country whose absence saddens and obsesses me is not that which I left when I was young but that which I dreamed of and which never managed to see the light of day’. These words taken from Amin Maalouf’s latest novel, a Lebanese writer living in France since 1976, succinctly describe what Oasis recently witnessed in the Middle East while visiting refugee camps and listening to the testimony of those who help and accompany them throughout this war.



Even the name of the novel Les désorientés helps us to understand what is at stake today. On the one hand, in fact, it realistically describes the profile of those transplanted in a place they have not chosen but which has been imposed by historical factors that unpredictably invest the life of people. It recalls the face of a woman we met in the camp in Bekaa. Not even thirty years old, her pale face framed by a tight black veil, with her children in her arms, this young Syrian woman was showing her sorrow for the loss of her husband who was assassinated near home. But it explained even more the emptiness she was experiencing for her uncertain future, for a live suspended in total uncertainty, deprived of the possibility of moving forward or even of going back. And also the word ‘disorientated’ incorporates the word ‘Orient’. As Amin Maalouf himself said it recalls those that have lost their ‘Orient’, or their personal dream. And at the same time it emphasizes that the very ‘Orient’, losing those that dreamed of it, loses itself. It loses its very meaning.



What Amin Maalouf suggests to his readers seems to speak also to the West and of the West. But in order to understand him we must return to Beirut.


Here, at the beginning of September, when the situation was very serious because of the American bomb threat, Pascal Monin, Professor of the University Saint Joseph, explained that there was nothing the Lebanese feared more than auto-bombs because they unpredictably and vilely hit the most innocent such as children on their way to school. And Monin added, the real bomb triggered and ready to explode today, nobody knows where, is that of the refugees. A million in four of the population (statistics of last September) spread over the whole territory, armed in some cases, certainly very angry, is one of the problems the institutions ignore, trapped in the logic of opposing blocks of the various political parties. In Lebanon they talk of a million people to which we can add the hundreds of thousands in Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt…



And in Europe? Here we fight over where and how to settle the immigrants arriving from the south and east of the world. A few days ago a Milanese newspaper published an article under the title ‘There is no room left in Milan for Syrian refugees’. But keeping in mind a number of Middle East people and the size of the Za’tari camp, north of Jordan, the second most populated camp in the world with 150,000 people, we immediately ask ourselves how many refugees reach Milan. According to some data registered in the prefecture, a hundred and twenty Syrians have asked for political asylum in Milan. One hundred and twenty. These of course are official numbers and we know that they do not always correspond to reality but the number is smaller if compared to the number registered in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. And Milan is Milan, one of Europe’s capital city!


When in 2011 Mons. Maroun Lahham was bishop of Tunisia, he strongly declared that it was a paradox to see the difficultly that Europe had in welcoming a few thousands immigrants from Tunisia who were seeking food and work, and they were not delinquents. “Tunisia itself had welcomed numerous Lybian refugees even it could offer much less. Europe will be safe – Mons. Lahham had said – as long as it is faithful to its Christian origins. And one of the strongest Christian values is sharing, solidarity. Open your heart therefore to your brothers who are in difficult situation even if they are different”.


Without simplifying the very complex problem of the refugees, nor being too naïve, it is true that this question is once again the unmasking of the hidden face of old Europe. Maybe a comparison with the experience of the Middle East could be useful.



It is on this point between the East and the West, between Muslims and Christians that the work of Oasis lies. To go back to the image of the ‘disorientated’, Oasis was created to favor the reciprocal exchange necessary to ‘orientate’ historical processes such as the mixture of civilization and cultures which manifests itself also in the form of the refugee questions. And it does this through its various tools, the multilingual magazine, the newsletter, books, site, international events.


In fact, in meetings among people who are personal witnesses, the cultural categories necessary to an understanding of the reality in all its complexity and in all its aspects, become more perfect, not only through the ‘wounds’ that come from war.



Among the most interesting expressions addressed to us is one by a Muslim who at the end of a debate observed: “Oasis is interesting because it does not speak of the Muslims but with the Muslims”. These words are even more significant if we consider that Oasis never renounces its identity giving its own interpretation of the reality rooted in the Christian experience.


‘I am in the right, and history is in the wrong’, says one of the main characters of the Les désorientés.


To understand all of this which may at times seem mistaken, Oasis continues with the same prudence auriga virtutum which is not cowardice, but an attempt to avoid partisanship and keep one’s gaze on the whole of the horizon from East to West.