Opinion by Emir Hodzic.
Editor’s Note: Emir Hodzic is a social activist specialising in the area of transitional justice. He originally settled in New Zealand under the UN refugee programme and has since worked in New York City, and, in his native Balkan region including Bosnia. This is Emir’s first piece for EveningReport.
Being in New Zealand now, while the Middle East burns and Europe is overwhelmed with refugees, is like being on the other side of the planet. Well, New Zealand is actually on the other side of the planet. So far away in fact, that nothing disrupts Prime Minister’s “rebranding” project. Nothing except rugby, that is. Everything is fine and dandy in Godzone. Except, sometimes thousands of “uninformed” and “politically irrelevant” New Zealanders take to the streets in protest of the TPPA free trade agreement, and the unusual secrecy behind it.
Unfolding human tragedy does make it to the 6 o’clock news, but it is so far away that it isn’t our problem. Most have accepted the Government’s explanation that we can’t afford to take more refugees, and some have even embraced good old-fashioned racism and bigotry. “All they will do is sit around dreaming of ways to kill us” one concerned Kiwi commented, “What you people need is a boot back to your nation, and fight your own way out, you maggots” suggested another. The most prominent concern is, of course, that we should help our own first, and not waste money on others. The same argument can be heard around the world.
Seems perfectly logical though, doesn’t it? Auckland rent prices are sky high, and food prices are among the highest in the world. Unemployed, and those living on minimum wage, are having a rough time in paradise. However, it has escaped the attention of these concerned patriots, that despite warnings from academics and some politicians regarding the growing inequality in New Zealand, the right wing government has been voted in three times! All of a sudden, we notice the growing gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots”, and the need to take care of our own. If only NZ took in more refugees, we could blame them for taking our jobs.
I came to NZ as a refugee, and it is difficult to read racist comments about refugees. As someone who went to school here, made friends, fell in love, hearing about filthy maggots and potential killers, feels like someone’s holding a torch to my face and exposing my own “otherness”. Fortunately, NZ is one of the most diverse countries in the world, and there are always opposing views.
The Government has been under pressure to increase the refugee quota, and they have done so by 600. Which still ranks NZ 90th in the world in per capita assistance to refugees. Local artists, like musician Neil Finn, Green party members, Amnesty International, and worker unions like Unite Union, have all voiced their concern at the Government’s lack of leadership in the wake of the refugee crises. Calling the current response “inadequate”.
Thousands of New Zealanders around the country have turned out in support of doubling New Zealand’s refugee quota. Candlelit vigils were held around the country, and only days a go I was at the “refugees welcome here” gathering in Auckland. Nevertheless, as it goes with international investment bankers turned politicians, the Prime Minister ignored the public.
On the other side of the planet, there are thousands of refugees moving through former Yugoslavia, a region that is still recovering from the bloody war of the nineties. The Serbian government is waiting for EU to give them some money before they do more, Croatian president Kolinda Grabar, went so far in fear mongering that she wants troops to defend the Croatian border! Inspired by the Hungarian humanitarian efforts, I guess. The situation in Bosnia is, well, even refugees from Syria are walking around it (unless Hungarian and Croatian borders close). But one thing that connects Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, New Zealand, and many other countries, is the response of the people.
Thousands of Bosnians of different ethnic backgrounds collected tons of aid, and have taken it to Serbia, and with Serbian volunteers have tried to help as best they could. The same goes for Croatia, and other European countries. While New Zealand is far away, thousands that took to the street in support of doubling the refugee quota, have shown that even New Zealand isn’t blind to the unfolding human tragedy.
New Zealand can’t hide from the world and continue to play the game of global capitalism – the New Zealand Government can’t support US wars but turn its head from the consequences. What we are seeing in Syria and Iraq can be traced back to the US-UK illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. With the standoff in Iraq today, ISIS still standing strong, Assad receiving Russian aid, it is hard to see things “improving” anytime soon. While the Western governments play geopolitics, and exploit the last drops of fossil fuels for their corporate sponsors, real people suffer.
In the age of corporate imperialism, where secret free trade agreements are giving even more powers to multinational corporations, and most politicians serve the interests of big business, there is no utopia to hide in. And New Zealand is certainly not an exemption. There is no place far away enough that is immune to world’s ills. And it is the people who understand this, that are also learning to self organise, act on principle of solidarity, and can’t be duped by mass media anymore. Future generations will, undoubtedly, judge us on how we treated those that needed our help the most. And it is thousands of people who extended their hand to those whose lives were reduced in value by externalities, that I consider my “own”.