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Entries in racism (37)


Japanese-American internment

Near Cody, in the middle of Wyoming, lies the remains of one of the internment camps where Japanese-Americans* were imprisoned in during WWII. More than 110,000 Japanese-Americans (most second/third generation American citizens, others barred from applying for American citizenship due to racist laws) were rounded up, stripped of their Constitutional rights and imprisoned in concentration camps. The excuse given at the time was that it was a military necessity after the attack at Pearl Harbor, but report after report since the event has found that there was never any security risk, and the real reason was simply racism. There was systematic racism against Japanese-Americans before WWII, during WWII and after WWII, and the implementation of internment was based on popular sentiment rather than military objectives. 

It was difficult to explain to Hayden. “In America, the people who live here came from lots of different countries, and have different colour skin. The people with white skin didn’t like the people with brown or black skin just because of the colour of their skin. They took lots of big ones and little ones who had a different skin colour and put them in jail for four years, even though they didn’t do anything wrong. It was a really really bad thing to do, we should never be mean to someone because of the colour of their skin.”

The great shame of America is just how systematically every aspect of the democratic republic failed its own people. The root cause of the internment was popular racism, and jealously of the economic success that Japanese immigrants has achieved (a parallel to the racism that the Nazis harnessed in Germany against the Jewish peoples). The bigotry and dehumanisation was broad within the American public, and loudly proclaimed by newspapers**, prominent businessmen*** and community leaders. Americans politicians rode the popular sentiment, all the way through the system up to FDR who signed the incarceration order. The judiciary failed to implement the Constitution, being swayed by popular racism rather than objective law, again, all the way through the system up to Supreme Court. The executive branch actively aided the racist policy, with the military implementing the order based on race (“I am determined that if they have one drop of Japanese blood in them, they must go to camp”, Colonel Bendetsen) and the Census bureau providing the confidential data needed to identify who had Japanese ancestry. For all the checks and balances, democracy failed its own citizens and let racism and bigotry rule. Is America now preparing to do the same to Muslim-Americans and Latino-Americans under a President Trump?

Despite all these deliberate insults, large numbers of Japanese-American men volunteered for the army, and fought bravely for a country that despised them. “Rarely has a nation been so well-served by a people it has so ill-treated. For their numbers and length of service, the Japanese Americans of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team… became the most decorated unit in American military history” – President Bill Clinton, 2000. Such a lasting shame to the country that these decorated soldiers, returning home, had to visit their family in concentration camps.

*At the moment it is popular for conservative (white) Americans to rail against “hyphenated Americans”, saying they should drop the hyphen and just be Americans. Which is rather rich of them, consider the long and dishonourable history of white Americans forcing the dual identity on minority groups, and treating them less for it. No matter how they protested, Japanese-Americans during WWII were not treated as regular Americans, so if some choose today to embrace dual identities the white nationalist brigade just have to suck it up. For my personal point-of-view, as an Australian-British-Belgian-European, the more identities we have the more likely we are to overlap and find common understanding.

**Columnist Henry McLemore, Hearst newspapers: “I am for the immediate removal of every Japanese on the West Coast to a point deep in the interior. I don't mean a nice part of the interior either. Herd 'em up, pack 'em off and give 'em the inside room in the badlands... Personally, I hate the Japanese. And that goes for all of them.”

*** Austin E. Anson, Salinas Vegetable Grower-Shipper Association, Saturday Evening Post, 1942: “We're charged with wanting to get rid of the Japs for selfish reasons. We do. It's a question of whether the white man lives on the Pacific Coast or the brown men. They came into this valley to work, and they stayed to take over... If all the Japs were removed tomorrow, we'd never miss them in two weeks, because the white farmers can take over and produce everything the Jap grows. And we do not want them back when the war ends, either”


Brexit is a result of the cowardliness of the Tories

The Leave-Remain compaign was never about sovereignity, it was always about xenophobia, pure and simple. For a tolerant country like the UK, founded on immigration and international empire, this xenophobia does not come naturally. Xenophobia was only a fringe movement on the right until the Tories decided to co-opt the language of racism in order to gain an electoral advantage over Labour. They thought they could repeat UKIP and BNP talking points against immigrants and the EU in order to pick up extra votes. It worked, but they legitimised a monster which has just proven willing to trash the UK economy in order to kick out Polish plumbers. If the Tories had had the moral courage to speak out against xenophobia early and strong, this would never had happened.

So what is gained by Brexit? Basically nothing. What the leave campaign didn't tell you is that the UK only voted against 2% of EU laws, so 98% of EU laws were put in place with the support of the UK government. All EU laws and regulations require the support of either elected governments or elected MEPs, so the UK still had a say over every decision made. Now it won't have a say, but it will have to abide by all of the laws and regulations anyway if it wants access to its largest trading partner. Bravo Leave campaign, you have just reduced the sovereignity of the UK. And if the UK decides not to be part of the EU trading block? Well the British pound instantly dropped 11% on this possibility, so get ready for a slow flight of capital out of the UK and into the US or Europe.

How about immigration? Again, it is disingenuous (i.e., a lie) to say that the UK lost control over its borders to the EU. The UK government was one of the leaders in the push to expand the EU to the east, and when Eastern Europe joined each EU member state was given the possibility to delay free migration. The UK was one of those countries that allowed immediate immigration - as a choice of the UK government. The simple fact is, the high level of immigration to the UK has nothing to do with the EU. It is driven by history, empire lost and the deliberate choice of the UK government to put economic growth over racial purity. So what will happen now? Well a bunch of Brits will lose their jobs in the EU, British retirees won't find it so easy to swan around in southern Spain, and French and German professionals will be discourged from working in London. That's it. The UK will still be a country of immigrants (sorry racists), and the only impact Brexit will have on slowing that process is if the economy collapses so badly that immigrants don't want to come any more.

What a disaster.

A noble woman, victim of xenophobia


Australia Day cringe

Often when a European or American finds out I am from Australia they'll comment about how much they like Australia. Countless times in Belgium I've heard, "Australia is the perfect country, I can't imagine why anyone would prefer to move to Belgium". Or from people who have visited Australia - "oh, I had such a great time in Australia, Australians are so friendly!". I find this difficult to take. Yes, Australians are typically very outgoing, you'll be invited to a BBQ at an Australian's house far sooner than you would be invited to dinner at a Belgian's. But friendliness is different to kindness. Australians as a people are not kind. Our country was founded on cruelty, and as an Australian you have to deliberately blind yourself to avoid seeing the cruelty today. The Aboriginal people are right to call January 26th "Invasion Day" or "Survival Day". For 200 years Australia has been intent on breaking them. They can be proud to have survived, but we cannot be proud to celebrate our unremitting war against them. Or how about the disgusting way Australia treats refugees, housed in concentration camps for year after year, children growing up behind bars without hope. Are we a people so cruel as to not have a heart at all? Or have we merely trained ourselves to close our eyes and shut off our hearts?

Perhaps on January 26th, my non-Australian friends can take the time to listen to the forgotten Australians. Then shame us until we listen to them as well.



Republican definition of a natural-born citizen

The US Constitution only makes a distinction between different classes of citizens in a single place - to run for President of the US, you must be not only a citizen, but also a "natural born citizen". This is not defined anywhere in the Constitution, but at the time it probably meant someone who was physically born in the US as the child of US citizens (interestingly, the foreign-born writers of the Constitution also gave themselves an exception). The issue has never really come up in a legal sense, and exactly who would be a "natural born citizen" has probably changed over time - for example, it is unlikely that many of the Founders would have considered American-born slaves to be natural born citizens, and until quite recently American women who married foreigners would automatically lose their citizenship.

The only time "natural born citizen" has even come up as an issue is for the "birther" Republicans who believe that Obama is ineligible to be President. Obama was born in the US to a US citizen mother, but the lunatic right made up a conspiracy that he was actually born in Kenya. Ironically enough, one of the leading Republican contenders for President this year, Ted Cruz, actually wasn't born in America. Cruz was born in Canada to an American mother and a Cuban father. In fact, Cruz is less likely to be considered a natural born citizen than the pretend Obama in conspiracy, since there are doubts that his American mother lived long enough in the US as an adult for Cruz to inherit citizenship.

So, according to some Republicans, Obama, born to an American mother in America, is not a natural-born citizen, while Cruz, born to an American mother in Canada, is natural-born citizen. Confused? This info-graphic explains the rationale:



The Brussels lock-down: how not to respond to terrorism

Two weeks ago we had the horrific attacks in Paris, with 130 innocent people killed. Senseless violence, breeding a senseless response. It is hard to fathom why an attack in France, committed by French nationals, had to result in bombing in Syria, anti-refugee sentiment directed at those fleeing similar terrorism, and the lock-down of Brussels. The lock-down of Brussels was the least of all these events, but it is the one I lived through.

Armoured personnel carrier on the streets of Brussels. And a waffle wagon - it is still Belgium afterall

A week after the Paris attacks, the international media was slamming Belgium to an absurd degree. The US media called Belgium a "failed state", something so patently absurd for the 14th safest country in the world that the ex-US ambassador called them out on it. And as for the Brussels neighbourhood of Molenbeek, well, in the words of the Australian media:

Molenbeek is a bleak hellhole that is exporting bigotry and hatred beyond Belgium’s borders. The area has become notorious as a breeding ground for jihadis and was home to several of the terrorists responsible for the latest attacks on Paris

Patently absurd. Yes, Molenbeek is one of the poorer and rougher neighbourhoods of Brussels, which would make it... safer than the safest part of New York? Our babysitter lives there, and our son sometimes goes over her house to play with her rabbit. Think we would allow that if Molenbeek was a bleak hellhole?

There are problems in Belgium. As in the rest of the world, Belgian immigrants are shut out of the economy in hundreds of subtle (and some not so subtle) ways, leading to poverty. In Belgium, for historical reasons most of our immigrants are Muslim, and most live in the poorest neighbourhoods of Brussels, so these economic problems are concentrated in places like Molenbeek. Show me any neighbourhood in the world with a young population and high youth unemployment and I'll show you young men getting into trouble. Belgian Muslims are generally less religious than Belgian Catholics, but out of a lot of angry young men with no jobs and little prospect, yeah, you'll get some radicalisation. 

Want to hear my one-step solution to Molenbeek? Jobs. Make jobs for all the youths. Young men with too much time and nothing to do? Give them jobs. Young men start spending all day at work and all night spending the money. Trash-talk on the streets is much less fun then drinking or taking your girlfriend out for dinner. Young women with jobs are now financially independent and harder to impress. The actual jobs don't matter, but why not have them improving the place? People are much less likely to destroy things they built. Or employ them to give Arabic lessons to public servants such as police? So many advantages - upskilling employees, building relationships, just conversations leading to people recognising each other as people. Sure, it would be expensive, but cheaper than what we actually did, and more effective.

Which brings me to the government's response to the Paris attacks. The Belgian government is currently led by the anti-immigrant xenophobic side of politics, and don't miss many chances to slam immigrants. I mean, seriously, we had to pass regressive new legislation to make sure an estimated five Belgian women don't wear face-coverings. These are people who shut down a Syrian refugee camp calling it "almost a music festival". So rather than try to inject some sensible calmness into the conversation after Paris, we had the Belgian PM say "Now we’ll have to get repressive". There were serious proposals to shut down mosques and put electronic tags on young Muslim men. A week later, Brussels went into lock-down.

#catphotos #notusinghashtagscorrectly

Repression. Let's talk about that word for a minute. Repression means that what is going to come next is going to be excessively harsh, because part of the point is to inflict pain on you, to crush you, to beat you down. Repression is invariably the response of tyrants to any dissent, and in turn repression acts as the pressure cooker that extremism is forged in. I challenge anyone to give me an example, one single example, where repression has solved extremism. Why not ask Assad how repression has worked for him? He certainly inflicted a degree of repression on Syria that would be unthinkable in Belgium, and it just bred ISIS. Gaddafi? The Saudis? You don't think all of them tried brutal repression to stamp out Islamism? Each generation they stamped out just bred bigger resentments and more radical extremism. Repression is not only immoral, it is stupid

After annoucing the government was trying for repression, Brussels was put into lock-down. Military flooded the streets, the metro and schools were shut-down, tanks were driven into the city. Completely unprecedented. Why did this happen? The stated reason was that one of the French attackers, Salah Abdeslam, was thought to be in the city. Certainly there was a security situation, but we would be naive to assume that the international media frenzy and the domestic agenda weren't also at play. Governments love to look "strong" after a terrorist attack (think: George W. Bush getting 90% approval ratings after 9/11), and this government had already announced its plan to get repressive. The timing at least was unusual, starting a week after the Paris attacks, and ending four days later without Abdeslam being found. The response was also patchy - the metro was shut down, but train stations and parliament were not, despite this being the highest possible threat level Belgium has. Now level 4 is gone, but the military remains. Until when?

The scene outside our house during lock-down

We have to ask, was the massive response proportional and was it wise?

Proportionality. The simple fact is that the Brussels response to the Parisan attacks was bigger than the Parisan response. It was bigger than London or Madrid after their major terrorism attacks. Scratch that, it was more extreme than New York City's response after 9/11. Was the risk in Brussels really the biggest risk that any western city has been exposed to since WWII? Most likely, the government over-reacted. Deliberately or in a panic, we'll never know. Governments never like to admit when they are wrong, and with security issue they never have to - they can just claim to have prevented attacks and say the records are sealed for security reasons. The Bush administration still won't admit that invading Iraq and torturing innocent prisoners was a mistake, so don't hold your breathe waiting for the Belgian government to fess up. I hate this idea of giving the government the benefit of the doubt. It is something we only do in the realm of security, even after we see incompetence or mean-heartedness in the less shadowly aspects of their job. I mean, this is Belgium - even loyal Belgians would be forced to admit that we probably did better when we didn't have a government for a few years, so let's not pretend sinners turn into saints behind closed doors.

Wisdom. What did ISIS want from the Paris attacks? Quite simply, they want to radicalise the Islamic population of Europe. They want European governments and the general public to turn against the local Muslim communities. They want harsh repression to foster resentment. They want the next generation of Muslim youths to feel like every non-Muslim hand is against them, to see an Islamic state as their only saviour. Unfortunately, the right-wing pant-wetters always respond exactly as terrorists want them to after each attack.

Let me tell you about my experiences during the lock-down. I love being able to walk through Brussels. We resettled here from America to get away from guns. The day of the lock-down I walked outside to find a military camp, complete with armoured cars and machine guns. I then waded through security theatre at the train station, everything slowing down to a crawl as armed police checked train tickets but not bags. When my little boy was finally allowed back to school I was blocked at the gates by an armed guard. My son is used to me taking him to his class and giving him a hug and a kiss; he started crying when led off instead by a guy dressed in black carrying a gun, and who can blame him? I walked through the city to find no-one, my vibrant home turned into a scared wasteland. Today on the train I saw a teenage boy led off the train by armed police - it was probably just due to not having a ticket, but the boy was almost wetting himself, like he expected to be executed on the platform. This is not my city. I feel anger, resentment, confusion. Now multiply that by a 100 and imagine how young testosterone-filled Muslim men are feeling right now in Brussels. This was not a wise move to make. 

Opening evening of the Brussels Winter Markets

The lock-down is over, but Brussels still doesn't feel the same. The city lost €200 million due to the shutdown, and the long-term economic effects have just begun - tourists are cancelling trips to Belgium in droves, we even had guest professers cancel on giving university seminars because of the perception of threat. People feel isolated, they look over their shoulders. When the metro broke down today you could see the nervous glances people were making. ISIS was responsible for the Paris attacks, but the Belgian government was responsible for the impact it is having on our society. Sadly, I don't see this government making any effort to repair the damage it caused. 


Our image of racism badly needs updating

Okay, nice twist, and now everyone decent* can feel good about themselves. But that is a very old-fashioned view of racism. It is the blatant racism of the minority, which everyone can stand up against. Modern racism is the insidious racism of the majority, which is accepted because race is coded and never explicitly called out. It is the black kid in Washington DC growing up in deliberately crippled public schools, who's parents are unable to vote. It is the Moroccan school-leaver in Paris who's CV gets returned without comment from every application because her name is Fatima or Mohammed. It is the Aboriginal family in remote (and not-so-remote) Australian communities growing up with infrastructure, opportunities and life expectancy lower than many a third world country. It is the studied avoidance of any, but the biggest, tragedy in a non-white country. This modern racism gets dressed up in right-wing neo-liberal politics, or is held within but not voiced in public, and unlike the racism in this video people do not stand up against it, and rarely even dare to call it racism. It is a racism that gets under your skin, the parasitic worm that instils feelings of superiority and smugness in the white majority and feelings of doubts and gnawing worries of inferiority in non-white minorities. Old-fashioned views on what racism is even aid this subliminal racism, because it allows the proponents of modern racism to loudly proclaim that racism is dead while simultaneously cultivating its reincarnation.


*a subset of people which specifically excludes people who make YouTube comments. Seriously, don't read the comments under this video.


A post-racial America?

Guess which American political movement Cliven Bundy is a hero of. If the image isn't enough, here is one of his quotes: 

I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro... They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.

You guessed it, the man is a hero of the Tea Party. Not because of his racism (that is just a bonus!). Afterall, that is just the liberal media taking his perfectly innocent comments out of context.

No, Cliven Bundy is the sweetheart of the Republicans for his armed stand-off against the US Federal government. Bundy is a rancher, who feeds his cattle on public lands. Since 1993 he has refuse to pay the (below commerical rates) fees for exploitating public lands, and has racked up more than a million dollars in debt to the government. Bundy went to court and lost, and still continued to graze without paying the fees. A few weeks ago, the Federal government finally impounded his cattle while they were grazing on public lands, with release on condition of payment of his outstanding debt. Bundy whipped up a storm among survivalist-types, and set up an armed camp around his ranch. He publically announced war on the Federal government, announced that he would use lethal force if need be, and in a confrontation with the police his mob assalted federal officers.

Guess what the Feds did? They gave him back his cattle and withdrew from his lands.

To me, that is the true sign of racism in America, at a level far more important than Bundy's personal racism. Image if a black man living in Chicago had refused to pay a $1000 fine, then threatened armed force and finally assalted a police officer who had come to collect the fine. That black man would probably be dead, and if he was not dead he would certainly be in jail. Can there be any doubt that the Federal government treated this rich white man differently from how they do poor black men, despite a crime magnified a 1000-fold? 

Racism in America has changed rather than disappeared. It is now relatively rare (but not unheard of) to have people in power publically state views like that of Cliven Bundy. Explicitly racist laws have been removed from the books, and according to the Supreme Court, if a law does not explicitly evoke race then it is not racist, regardless of the intent or effect. No, racism in America is now more coded. It is not a CEO deciding that the company won't hire African-Americans, it is middle management not promoting black staff, while being careful not to give race as a reason. Electoral racism is not Jim Crow, it is voter suppression laws and underfunding of polling booths in black neighbourhoods.

The best examples of legal racism in America today are the drug laws. African-Americans use drugs at essentially the same rate as white Americans, making up 13% of the population and 13% of drug users. Yet African-Americans are three times as likely to be arrested for drug use, once arrested they are twice as likely to be charged and convicted, and if convicted they are twice as likely to be sent to jail. So overall, despite the same level of drug use, African-Americans are 13 times more likely to be sent to jail for drug use. Add onto this laws that extend the prison sentence among the black community, such as differential prison sentences for crack vs powdered cocaine, or the school zoning laws that amp up the sentence of drug use in inner cities versus rural areas. The net effect on the black community is absolutely destructive - thanks to the drug laws, 30% of all young black men in America will spend time in prison, after which a host of other legal impedements follow them for the rest of their lives, making basic rights such as housing, employment and voting far more difficult to gain.

That is the face of racism today in America. Implicitly racist laws, differential implementation of those laws, and a society which penalises both being poor and being black. Thanks to the legacy of slavery and explicit racism, the black community is far poorer than the white community, so a typical African-American gets hit with both racism and class warfare. What is needed to end this cycle of poverty and racism is not the election of a black President. Instead we need the repeal of the drug laws, the stand-your-ground laws and the myriad of other (smaller) legal injustices still on the books. And we need Affirmative Action and public education to break the cycle of poverty, providing a multi-generation pathway to ending the class-race divide. Unfortunately, while the Supreme Court does not seem to have a problem with the racial discrimination built into the drug laws, they are dismantling Affirmative Action and allowing voter suppression laws. Because the conservative wisdom is that as long you don't mention race, nothing you do is racist.


And Republicans wonder why they lose the non-white vote...

Somehow I don't think the Republican outreach program to non-white Americans is working...

Watch the head of the Republicans in Maine claim that African-American voters were shipped into the state to fraudently vote for Obama: 
In some parts of rural Maine, there were dozens, dozens of black people who came in and voted on Election Day. Everybody has a right to vote, but nobody in town knows anyone who’s black. How did that happen? I don’t know. We’re going to find out….
Watch a Colorado Republican poll watcher suspect election fraud as African-Americans turn out to vote:
Yeah, a very high concentration of people of color. It’s not a problem, but, you know, when I go to the mall I see, you know this amount. Well I’m seeing at least double or triple that amount here. So what I’m saying is, it looks to me like this voting location was selected as the place they told everyone to come.
Watch Fox News discuss the Hispanic vote while showing stock film of illegal border crossings:

Race and the American election

Have the 2008 and 2012 election wins ushered in a new era for American race relations? After all, this is a "post-racial America", where a black man was voted President twice by a clear majority of citizens. Right?

No. Barack Obama won both elections for one reason only - demographic change. If it wasn't for demographic change, both McCain and Romney would have won landslides equal to that of Ronald Regan. Consider this - Obama lost the white vote by 20 points (60% Romney, 40% Obama). In 1980 this was the margin of loss by which Carter lost the white vote to Regan. The difference is just that in 1980 the white vote was 88% of the electorate, now it is only 72%. Obama badly lost the white vote (39%), but he overwhelmingly won the black (93%), hispanic (71%) and Asian (73%) votes. If you give Romney his 2012 results by race, but use the 1980 demographics, Romney would have won the election 53% to 45% - almost the same spread as Regan beat Carter (8 points vs 9 points). This is not to say there hasn't been enormous improvements in race relations in America, but the election of Barack Obama does not mean that race doesn't matter.

The Republicans need to be really, really scared. The white vote is just going to decrease in every election from now on. In 2011 white babies were a slight minority in America - using the demographics of the 2011 birth cohort, Obama would have won 59% of the vote. This is going to be a slow process, but unless the Republicans stop their race hatred they are simply doomed. Actually, I'll go a little bit further: they need to stop their race hatred, their homophobia, their Christian supremacy ideas and their misogyny. Among people who identified as LGBT, 90% voted for Obama. Among the non-religious, Obama won 70% of the vote. Among women, Obama won 55% of the vote (although he lost white women). Every growing demographic is being alienated by the Republicans - whether they are Black, Hispanic, Asian, LGBT or atheist. The only groups that the Republicans can really rely on are white men (62% voted Romney) and the highly religious (59% of weekly Church-goers voted Romney). That is a dying demographic, and the Republicans need to wake up and realise that from now on, America is a pluristic society.

Finally, the election result that may have the most profound, long-lasting impact on politics in America: Puerto Rico just voted for Statehood (61%). Now a petition for Puerto Rico to become the 51st state of America will go before Congress, and once it is accepted (I assume the Republicans try to block it for awhile), Puerto Rico will become a proper State. This will be huge. For the first time, ~4 million American citizens will get to vote in Federal elections, having 2 Senators, 5 Representatives and 7 Presidential Electors. For the first time ever, a new state will be accepted into the Union that is non-white (all other states were not accepted until they were majority white, even if now a few have become minority-majority). For the first time ever, there will be an officially bilingual state in the US (Spanish/English). The new America is evolving, and it is going to look more diverse, more multicultural and more mutually respectful.


Despair of the asylum seeker

This story is a rare glimpse into the life of an asylum seeker living in Belgium. With much of the world war-torn and desolate, a rare few brave families risk the unknown in search of a better life, and a fraction of a fraction arrive in Belgium. Once in Belgium the families are safe from immediate persecution, and a few are granted refugee status, premitting them to stay indefinately and integrate into society. Far more, however are sans papiers - those waiting for judgement or those without what is considered adequate written proof of persecution but who come from a region unstable enough that they cannot be forced to leave. 


Legally, the Belgium government is to provide at least housing for asylum seekers, in practice the government has not built any where near enough places. Over and over again, homeless asylum seekers will take a case to the courts and judges will levy fines on the government for not meeting its legal obligations - and the government will just pay the fines rather than increase housing. Without "papers" the refugees cannot find a job and support themselves, they legally have no choice but to be sleeping on the street, begging and eating in soup kitchens. Even for those few who are granted papers life is no picnic, I remember waiting behind an Afghan man, probably in his late 40s, at the Leuven Town Hall, who was seeking permission to work. Over and over again he was denied permission, because his asylum papers said he was born 1/1/2000. He tried to explain that this was the default date because he didn't have a birth certificate (being born in a small Afghan village), they simply shut him down and said that they could not give a work permit to an 11 year old, and if he wanted to change it he would need to provide a valid birth certificate.

 To be sans papiers is to be left in limbo, to have no means to better yourself and no way to regain the dignity of self-sufficiency. It benefits nobody to leave people sitting unemployed in a cramped flat, sleeping out in an abandoned building intermittently raided by police, or freezing at night in an underpass. It certainly harms the most vulnerable members of our society. So who is to blame for this callus disregard for human dignity? Sure, you could blame the bureaucrats who make decisions, but they are only operating under the law. You could blame the politicians who make the laws, but with a thousand pressures on the political class the one issue they can safely ignore is the one which harms non-voters. You could blame the media, for ignoring the issue, but the media panders to populism and knows a dead issue when it sees one. No, ultimately we need to blame the voters, the people who could easily apply pressure for change, but who simply do not care enough about the plight of others to demand a minimum level of human dignity be granted to those who need it the most. 

Still, it could be worse. Mahboub and Rama and their two young children could have landed in Australia. They would have then been thrown straight into a prison (what other name can you call a "detention centre" set in the middle of the desert and surrounded by barbed wire?) and left to rot indefinately. Vilified by the Australian people as "boat people" and "que jumpers", asylum seekers have been condemned to life behind bars for up to seven years, before being deported or given papers. Australian governments of the right and left cite "processing requirements", but the real cause is clear - the racism of the Australian voter. While the idea of being stranded without rights on the streets of Brussels fills me with despair, living behind bars for the best part of a decade due to the "crime" of fleeing persecution is beyond my imagination.