Refugees and Passports and Looking Away

David Stark / Zarkonnen
14 Dec 2015, 9 p.m.

Remember Anne Frank? Tragic story. If only there had been anything someone could have done. Like, for example, giving her family a visa to come to the US, or Cuba, or anywhere else on the planet.

This is not to shift the blame away from the Nazis who actually killed her. But culpability can spread without diminishing. The attitude towards European jews in large parts of the US was that they needed to be kept out of the country, and the confusing and restrictive visa process that the Franks ultimately failed to navigate was set up to do just that.

The parallels to today's refugee situation are obvious, and if you find yourself arguing that no, there's some important difference - take care. Are you arguing backwards from the conclusion that you want? I am quite certain that back in the 30s and 40s, there were a lot of very nice and reasonable people arguing just as hard that while of course it would be good if refugees could be let in, it was simply not possible for some reason or another. My own country, Switzerland, being no exception there.

A second article, The Politics of Prejudice: How Passports Rubber-Stamp Our Indifference to Refugees, goes on to show the degree to which passports and other "travel papers" and their associated bureaucracy have always been a tool for controlling the movement of people, to keep out "undesirables", to generate excuses for abandoning people. There's no need for an explicit policy that would spell out the suffering caused. Applications just happen to be rejected. People are moved on, returned, told to go somewhere else. "Home", as if there was such a thing. The occasional child drowns in front of a camera and we feel bad.

Carbon offsetting is supposed to help fix the climate. I now propose "refugee offsetting". Want to bomb a country? For each bomb you drop, you have to take in a family.