Open Arms Operation

the drama of emigration and the sea rescue action of the NGOs

The discovery, in 1995, of the "mirror-neuron" phenomenon bestowed physiological meaning on the concept of empathy. When humans interact with others of their species, their respective brains "enter into a state of resonance", thanks to a process that activates similar neuronal configurations on both sides. This way, the understanding of the Other undergoes a reformulation inside the brain of each of the subjects involved. This mechanism is correlated, however, with the effectiveness of the relationship existing between the subjects in question. This is rather evident in the rapport between a mother and her child, less so in that between strangers, especially if the strangers belong to different ethnic groups and cultures where even facial features and expressions they may make signals less intelligible.

Are indifference and the inability to feel empathy towards foreigners correlated phenomena, if not actually xenophobia?

It is legitimate to pose a similar question in the face of the larger and larger segments of western public opinion prepared to surrender to identitarian models used to categorise a world comprising us and them (the boundaries of which are often quite undefinable), capable of justify feelings of fear, resentment, intolerance, violence and indifference which have little or nothing to do with empathy.
These models find their most disturbing expression in the recrudescence of xenophobic and identitarian issues animating the debate on emigration in western countries. Yet, everyone knows that when a migrant decides to depart, as all emigrants of all eras and latitudes did, he/she is making the difficult decision to end a part of his/her life, to leave the places and the people with whom he/has always lived, the land and the culture that nourished him/her. Today, a migrant realises that he/she will have to face a perilous journey during which he/she may be attacked, wounded, kidnapped, robbed, raped, fall gravely ill, be tortured and blackmailed, drown, end up in prison, be repeatedly repulsed; in the end, he/she will find him/herself in a west anything but well disposed towards him/her, bent on marginalising him/her, making him/her an outcast. Migrants set out on their journey well aware that, having indebted themselves to the hilt to pay for their voyage and violating all and every regulation regarding migratory flows, they will not be able to go back on their tracks and say "I was wrong". When people take all this into account, if they are prepared to run all these risks, even oblige their children to do likewise, this means that life offers no other way out; it means that where they are they are standing with their backs up against the wall. Those who have had this same feeling at some point in their lives know what it means to be certain that, beyond their will and every possibility, the only option open to them is flight.

"But we cannot host them all" we hear some people who have some idea of how responsible the west is as regards the degradation of the third world, say.
In truth, the migrants themselves would willingly do without the apparatuses we call "refugee centres", since they are part of a system of control and containment of migratory flows, an offspring of fear, of that perverse mechanism by which the emigrant - marginalised - arouses social alarm. Immigrants are frightening as outcasts, whether poor, gypsies or homeless, since there is nothing genetic, but much that is political and social, about being on the margins of society.
Fear induces people to lend an ear to politicians who raise their voices to propose measures which will eventually create even further marginalisation, generating, therefore even more fear in order to reap greater electoral success.
Migrants are perfect outcasts because, by law, there is no way for them to emerge from their condition. For them a "residence permit", with its corollary of a regular legal employment contract and a residence with a certificate of habitability, is an impossible goal, precisely because of the contrivances of the law. Illegal emigrants are a resource to be exploited at all levels by extortionists of all kinds: landlords, doctors, employers, middlemen and criminals, and continuous reference is made to their duty to integrate and respect our laws and traditions, as if that might reduce their diversity and our xenophobia.

With this in mind, there is little to be surprised at when accusations, otherwise staggering in their enormity, like that of being in cahoots with the traffic of human beings, are launched against NGOs active in the rescue of emigrants in the Mediterranean. Faced with the frightening numbers of deaths at sea, the need for these operators is evident if only in consideration of the rescues they carry out, in an increasingly tense climate where the intimidation of Libyan "coast guards" is combined with the action of neo-fascist vessels. "Open Arms" is the name of the lifeguard / sea rescue operation promoted by one of the proactive NGOs, one of the two (the other is S.O.S. Mèditerranèe) which, since December 2017, have been left alone in their efforts to bring relief to people on the run. Those who work for rescue at sea are forced to maintain a very low profile, limiting their action exclusively to rescue, fostered and protected by international navigation laws as well as by common sense and civilization.

But the very civilisation which once proclaimed the sacredness of hospitality, of the guest, is being questioned continually in defence of a cultural tradition of which the sacredness of hospitality was a part ...
Those who find themselves living during these terrible years , those who do their best to keep their empathy alive feel they are crossing a desert, and that this crossing will be a very long one ... When these events will be viewed through the lenses of historical detachment we will be judged very severely for the myriad horrors taking place and for the little being done lucidly to prevent them, as well as the much that has been done lucidly to provoke them. And once again we shall be amazed at the banality of evil.

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