Immigrants, Trump, Pope Francis, and Two FilmsRoundup
tags: immigration, Pope Francis
Walter G. Moss is a professor emeritus of history at Eastern Michigan University. His most recent book is An Age of Progress?: Clashing Twentieth-Century Global Forces (2008). For a list of all his recent books and online publications, including many on Russian history and culture, go here: https://people.emich.edu/wmoss/pub.htm
I recently saw two films on Netflix that got me thinking about the whole question of immigrants. They were His House (2020), about a married couple who flee South Sudan, cross the Mediterranean Sea, and end up in England, and Atlantics (2019), about a young couple parted when the man leaves another African country, Senegal, to risk a perilous Atlantic-Ocean, small-boat voyage to Spain.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump, in one of his final presidential trips, went to Texas to give a speech near the US-Mexico border wall that he has reinforced and added to, primarily to prevent illegal immigrants from entering the USA. Ever since he announced that he was running for president in 2015, he has railed against illegal immigrants or even legal ones from countries he doesn’t like.
- “The Mexican Government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States. They are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc” (2015).
- “Haiti? Why do we want people from Haiti [and Africa] here? Why do we want these people from all these shithole countries here? We should have more people from places like Norway” (2018).
During his years as president some 5,500 children of parents trying to enter the USA illegally were separated from their parents, many of whom were then deported without their children.
In His House enough pre-England scenes are provided for viewers to realize that its chief characters (Bol and his wife, Rial) fled South Sudan because of the violence there, and made the perilous small-boat journey across the Mediterranean to seek asylum in Europe. On the voyage they lost their daughter in the rough waters. Once in England in their government-prescribed house, their sea experiences continue to cause them nightmares; and they are haunted by ghosts and demons, which lead them to attack the walls of their house and displease the government officials with whom they deal.
Quick background research reveals that civil war (including ethnic killing) occurred in South Sudan between 2013 and early 2020. By mid-2018 about 400,000 people had been killed in the war, many resulting from ethnic conflicts, and some 2.5 million people had fled South Sudan. Violence, hunger and famine, and economic deterioration all contributed to the exodus.
The situation in Senegal, whose capital city, Dakar, is on Africa’s Atlantic coast, has not been as troubled as South Sudan, but still has enough problems to prod young men like Souleiman, the main male character in Atlantics, to risk his life in a small boat trying to get to Spain. He had been among a group of construction workers whose employer had not paid them for several months. (For more thorough reviews of His House and Atlantics, see here and here.)
In countries such as the USA, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Great Britain, Austria, Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic right-wing political movements have strengthened as a result of opposition to increased refugees and other migrants. One of the right-wing’s most strenuous objections is that such immigrants often bring alien cultures and religions (like Islam) with them and resist accepting the ways of the countries in which they wish to reside.
In opposition to such right-wing reaction has been the voice of Pope Francis. On September 29, 2019, the Catholic Church’s 105th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, he celebrated Mass, preached, and inaugurated in the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Square a 20-foot tall bronze sculpture depicting 140 migrants and refugees from different historical periods, including Jews fleeing from Nazi Germany and, more recently, Syrians and Africans fleeing from war, poverty, and famine.
In his sermon, Francis said that “wars only affect some regions of the world, yet weapons of war are produced and sold in other regions which are then unwilling to take in the refugees produced by these conflicts. Those who pay the price are always the little ones, the poor, the most vulnerable. . . . Our response to the challenges posed by contemporary migration can be summed up in four verbs: welcome, protect, promote and integrate. . . . If we put those four verbs into practice, we will help build the city of God and man. We will promote the integral human development of all people. We will also help the world community to come closer to the goals of sustainable development that it has set for itself and that, lacking such an approach, will prove difficult to achieve.”
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