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    Accommodating the world’s misery

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    Jean PeetersBy Jean Peeters, cicm  

    Belgium cannot accommodate all of the world’s misery; we have enough poor among us. We hear this more and more often. And the very same people frequently add: “Besides, so many people are already taking advantage of us: there are those who, for years

    already, apply for welfare or a minimum integration income and do not want to do anything. They should be told to cut grass along the embankments, like in Luxemburg; at least, they would be useful.”

    In fact, due to a crisis that is increasingly becoming acute, we are more and more aware of the rumblings of social discontent that are manifesting themselves in Belgium. Even among us, CICM fathers, opinions are sometimes conflicting, and the feelings of many other people are divided.


    Belgium remains a paradise for European or non-European foreigners, and we can understand them; a hundred years ago, our grandparents dreamt of the U.S. The Third World inhabitants are eyeing on us now because, as a Latino friend told: “You, Europeans, came to take our wealth in our countries. Now, we are doing what bees are doing: when their honey is stolen, they do whatever they can to get it back.” We should not believe that this looting of the South is over: it goes on with renewed vigor and with the help of local complicity.

    East European countries did not experience this looting. Yet, they are the victims of the same exploitation mechanisms. Indeed, the opening of the borders between the twenty-seven countries of the European Union, the Maastricht Treaty, the Nice Treaty and the following ones aim especially at the economic development of the countries of the Union. To put it plainly, it does not imply the improvement of the standard of living of the European citizens. It    is rather to the advantage of the large European companies and their shareholders, and usually at the expense of the people. Impressive amounts of money have been lent to develop agriculture/breeding which results in the creation of huge farms leading immediately to unemployment (which does not exist!) of hundreds of thousands of small producers. And besides, our agriculture has to pay for it. These mechanisms functioned also for other small enterprises that are disappearing in favor of large industries and banks with shareholders, some more voracious than others.

    Hence, we can easily understand that, in addition to the refugees who are actually in danger of death in their country, thousands of other refugees, called economic refugees, try their luck in our country as well as with our neighbors. And soon we    will have to add the climatic refugees!

    Divide and rule

    The Belgians are divided. There are those who say that we are not supposed to allow human beings to be left on the street, in parks, slums or squats, with no other income than medical assistance in case of serious danger to their health. For others, it is evident that most of these economic refugees are often healthy people who could be useful in their own country: they should be sent back home, forcibly if necessary. Besides, many of us, who resided in Congo, know some of them who, indeed, should not stay here as refugees.

    This is already a first remark that can be made: divide and rule. Divide the excluded to prevent them from reacting effectively. Yet,   it is a fact that those who are excluded from the Belgian economic pie as well as those who are excluded from other parts of the world are victims of the same economic and financial mechanisms that currently dominate the world and Europe. They are known and well-established: the IMF and the World Bank (that just started their devastation in Greece, Spain, Italy), the European Union dominated by extreme liberalism (e.g. it lends money to banks at    low interest, and they, in their turn, lend it to states charging the      full price!). It is not without cause that the number of billionaires    has increased tenfold in a few years!

    And the Belgian profiteers?

    It is true that there are also profiteers among us, Belgians; we know some of them, and unfortunately these are the examples that make people most angry. But how many are they exactly? Among these tens of thousands, what is the percentage of job seekers or people having a minimum integration income? Those who are close to this environment know some of them, but they know many more people who, on the contrary, try everything to get out of this situation. Young people, fathers and mothers tired of introducing curriculum vitae, of going round the city in search of evidences of job application or of attending training that often gets them nowhere. How many are they who impatiently wait the end of the month to recharge their electric meter card or to queue to receive a food parcel?

    Obviously, we do not have exact figures, but it is quite possible that only 5 or 10% are real profiteers, and the same percentage holds for the people who could make an effort. But if we could compare the financial loss caused by this sector of social fraud to the loss caused by fraud or tax arrangements estimated at 8 to 10 billion    euro per year, the conclusion would be obvious. Moreover, we should not forget that in the economically devastated regions, many young people never saw their parents leave to go working, despite all their efforts to find work.

    What should be done?

    Beyond our differences of opinion in practice, we should not get the wrong enemy! Roma refugees at the North Station in Brussels, refugees hidden in squats, groves or under bridges in Ostend, Antwerp, Brussels and Charleroi are not the enemies of the thousands of unemployed, homeless and other excluded in Belgian society. Like us, they are victims of the rapacious finances; like us, they try to survive in a Europe dominated by ultra-liberalism. And what is more, we should also know that it is in the employers’ interest to have such a high number of legal and illegal job seekers in Belgium, because they put pressure on the wages.

    What should be done? Perhaps, we should be more lenient towards the people involved because we know that we are in the same camp. Because we, too, see that our lifestyle is decreasing: movies, outings, festivals, food, heating, public transport… We are not enemies, but like them, we are victims.

    But, above all, we must be aware that we are the ones who vote     in Belgium, that we installed the European Parliament and that our vote may have confirmed them in their position. We have also the possibility to analyze the situation better. We have the opportunity to be better informed, to propagate alternative information, and perhaps to join collectives who try as best they can to resist the destructive wave of humanity that risks overwhelming us if we are not careful.

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