Emile Roemer: To look for a solution is our duty as human beings

21 October 2015

Emile Roemer: To look for a solution is our duty as human beings

People are worried. Worried about the growing violence in the world and worried about the millions of people who have had to leave everything behind because of it. In our country, hard work is being done to organise a decent reception for those who have arrived here. From many people I hear expressions of sympathy for people who have fled before war and violence. At the same time I see the unrest which is coming to the surface of our society.

For years the Dutch people have had to put up with austerity policies. Money would be no longer be available for good quality care in nursing homes, sufficient affordable homes, financial support for students, or sheltered workplaces. Yet in those same years enormous profits have been recorded by health insurance corporations, there was enough money to give out to the wealthiest, and thousands of rental dwellings were sold to foreign investors. Many people have simply had enough. They feel that they’re being screwed around. And I understand that very well.

We can’t look away when people are fleeing war. It’s our duty as human beings to look for a solution. In the first instance work must be put into addressing the causes of the conflicts. Fifteen years of military interventions in the Middle East have not brought peace any closer. In many places armed forces have intervened without any work being put into finding a political solution, and the results have been counterproductive. Now, over the whole region, we are seeing millions of people fleeing, leaving behind hearth and home in their search for a safe place. Many go straight to refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and elsewhere, camps which often lack clean drinking water, adequate food, and education for the children. So improving conditions in the region’s camps is also necessary.

Some of the people fleeing elect to go to Lebanon, others to Turkey or Europe. To Greece, for example, or Germany or the Netherlands. Many Dutch councils have generously offered to house refugees in small reception centres, yet the government has gone for the most part for large-scale facilities against the wishes of many local inhabitants. In doing so they have stoked up the frustration amongst the population still further, making the same mistake as has been done in so many other areas of policy. There has been no consultation with these local populations, and neither they nor the experts have been listened to. It’s exactly the same way that the home help service has been undermined, access to legal aid reduced and spending cuts imposed on psychiatric care. Only a government that loses touch with a large slice of society could push through its policies in this way.

In order to strengthen solidarity amongst people in our country, we need to take everyone’s needs seriously. You won’t do that by setting group against group. Not by blaming refugees who need a roof over their heads, but by seeing the back of this government and its politics. With the support of the anti-immigrant PVV, they have worked for years to reduce the availability of social housing, lower the social minimum and make health care unaffordable.

The refugee crisis has made visible the unrest that lurks just below the surface of our society, an unrest created by the same people who time after time present us with the bill for an eroded solidarity. They now see, and with justice, that the prevailing political establishment is not their ally, but quite the opposite. If we want to strengthen support for the welcoming of refugees, the government must first begin to take these justifiable concerns seriously.

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