Endless Exodus: 3,000 Years of Fearing and Depending on Refugees

By Mark Mazower – February 10, 2017

The Financial Times

It is a privilege not to have known war. It is also a kind of ignorance.

The wars of the last century are fading from view across much of Europe, as they are in the US. They are no longer things people have lived through; at best they are stories handed down by parents and grandparents. Historians try to animate these stories, to make them resonate. But there is a price to pay for this erosion of memory.

The European Union emerged out of the second world war with one main goal: to ensure the peace. It has done the job so well that many Europeans now assume peace can look after itself. The same war turned the US into the world’s leading power, the creator of global institutions and norms. President Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigration from seven Muslim countries underscores his intent to turn his back on this role. The war on terror will trump international obligations to refugees; outright discrimination will trump both.

Karl Schlögel’s newly translated In Space We Read Time is a series of reflections on the geographical imagination in history, by an eminent German historian of Russia and eastern Europe. It contains an astonishing map of the world that was published in Berlin in 1938. Part of a “Handbook for Jewish Emigration”, it shows the distance from Germany of various potential destinations for Jews fleeing the Nazis — “Wellington, 16,400 kilometres; Cape Town, 11,050 kilometres; Buenos Aires, 13,250 kilometres . . . ”. Schlögel’s work underlines how far the experience of the 20th century was one of upheaval, of destroyed homes and housing crises, of displaced persons and the search for shelter. Out of this emerged solidarities that underpinned the modern refugee rights regime but which have now worn thin in those parts of the world most easily able to help. In 2015, the US, with an annual per capita income of more than $50,000, hosted half as many refugees as Kenya (per capita income $3,400). A mere 6 per cent of the world’s displaced persons are sheltered in Europe. Only Germany, the country that has thought more openly and searchingly than any other in recent times about war and its meaning, bucks the trend.

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