Migrants, cockroaches, deportees … people

The almost unimaginable horror of people dying in the seas of Europe – and politicians declaring happily how many they had prevented from landing – has overwhelmed even the electioneering shouting of the past week.

My friend Julyan wrote yesterday far more eloquently than I could in the blog of Trinity Methodist Church, Newlyn. You can read it at “Migrants”, “cockroaches” and “my overlooked bothers and sisters.”

It brought to mind a song re-recorded relatively recently by Martyn Joseph for his album Kiss The World Beautiful. It’s Woody Guthrie’s Deportees. It a protest song detailing the January 28kiss beautiful, 1948 crash of a plane near Los Gatos Canyon.

Wikipedia says that Guthrie was struck because radio and newspaper coverage of the Los Gatos plane crash did not give the victims’ names, but instead referred to them merely as “deportees.” None of the deportees’ names were printed in the January 29, 1948 New York Times report, only those of the flight crew and the security guard.

In the poem, Guthrie assigned symbolic names to the dead: “Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye Rosalita; adiós, mis amigos, Jesús y María…” A decade later, Guthrie’s poem was set to music by schoolteacher Martin Hoffman and folk singer Pete Seeger, began performing it.

Here is a clip of Martyn and Billy Bragg singing Deportees

There’s an eerie parallel with this week’s news reports. Suddenly those drowning off Lampadusa are not people, just “migrants”.

The Council of European Churches have been working to encourage governments to provide legal and safe pathways for all people trying to escape from war zones.

“We deplore this loss of life,” remarked CEC General Secretary Rev. Dr Guy Liagre, “and are deeply saddened by this tragedy on Europe’s doorstep.” We pray also for those involved in the demanding rescue and recovery mission. (read more here)

Reacting to this latest tragedy, and following so many others, World Council of Churches General Secretary Olav Fykse Tveit called for “renewed solidarity and action, and for a resumption and strengthening of a collective European response.” He asked for meaningful European search and rescue efforts and called on EU Member States to contribute substantially and speedily to such efforts in order to prevent future loss of life among people driven to this desperate crossing.

Tveit added, “These tragedies are strong calls for strengthening the efforts to address the root causes for poverty, social insecurity and conflicts in the countries from where the migrants are coming.”

Doris Peschke General Secretary of the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe, said, “Only legal and safe pathways into Europe would help to prevent these tragedies from happening. This includes increased refugee resettlement and lifting of visa requirements for people arriving from countries in conflict, like Syria and Eritrea. We need safe passages.”


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