Not everybody travels because they feel like it

Here’s a thing that has been bugging me for a while now.

Cyril and I have been on some great cycling trips. Over the years we’ve hosted people who are doing the same through warmshowers. We choose to cross borders and live with what we can carry on our bikes. Sometimes it’s hard, sometimes the weather is shit, but overall it’s a most beautiful way to travel. When we are done with traveling we come back to homes, jobs, friends and family. The best part of our travel memories is meeting people from different places and being made to feel welcome everywhere we go.

Refugee crisis

On the other hand there are the refugees crossing the Mediterranean. They have no homes, jobs, friends and family to go back to. They are crossing borders because they are fleeing wars and persecution and poverty. They are not welcomed and only reluctantly taken in.

I am embarrassed by the growing inequality in the world. I’m lucky to be on the right side of the divide, by the sheer accidental chance of having been born in The Netherlands. One of the richest countries in the world. I could have been born in Syria. I could have been involuntarily traveling this summer, risking my life in a boat across.

I’m embarrassed by my government not doing more to help and I feel helpless when I look at the media stories about the refugees. They are portrayed as a ‘swarm’, it’s a ‘crisis’. Overall the refugees are being dehumanised in the stories we read. Even more so in the horrible comments a lot of people post below these articles. People who apparently do not realize it could easily have been their family suffering if they had been born in a different place, at a different time. I know it’s not nice or pretty to look at. It might disturb our nice little lives. But, we cannot stick our heads in the sand and pretend that we don’t hear the people knocking on our door. Asking for our help.

This is a situation that is a given: people cross borders, lots of them. They are looking for a better life for themselves and their children. They are willing to do whatever it takes and that in itself is admirable. Lets help them make their own lives better and give them a place in our society. They might make our lives better too.

In Amsterdam

Today I visited an emergency refugee shelter in Amsterdam. It’s one of the places where people who arrive in Amsterdam can stay until they get somewhat better (temporary) housing where they await the processing of their refugee status application. The shelter was in an old school building close to the ring road around Amsterdam. The first impression was somewhat off-putting; security guards hanging around the entrance, gruffly demanding ‘which organisation?’ and ‘passport!’ from me, before providing me with a visitor pass.

Once I entered I noticed how Amsterdam volunteers make a great effort to make this makeshift home a somewhat more welcoming place. Kids running around, little groups of men and women talking in corners with sofa’s and plants, an overall calm atmosphere, a splash of colour here and there. I didn’t speak to any of the refugees so I can only imagine the many feelings of the people who are here: relief, resignation, despair, impatience, trauma, loneliness, sadness, happiness, anger, hope… I can also only imagine how I would react in a similar situation; probably a whole lot less dignified, knowing my own impatience.

I went to give away an old bicycle, and I hope someone in the shelter will gain a little bit of the freedom and agency, that we take for granted every single day, by riding it around town.

Photo by Ahmad Zamri - refugee bicycle
Photo by Ahmad Zamri

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