Opinion: 70 years on and we’re still not letting them in
2015-09-15 16:13:22 -
World News

Ronit Lentin


My late husband Louis Lentin’s documentary No More Blooms was broadcast on RTÉ television on International Human Rights Day, 10 December 1997. Based on scrupulous archival research, the film documented Ireland’s consistent refusal to give refuge to more than 60 Jewish people fleeing Nazism between 1933 and 1946.


Prior to the screening, Lentin told The Irish Times: “If you had been told in 1939 that when the war started, the policy of genocide would be implemented, would you have believed it?” However, as the war progressed, and despite neutral Ireland (which was not unique in closing its borders) being shielded by strict State censorship from knowledge about the excesses of the Nazi extermination programme, it became apparent that Jewish (and Roma) people were being systematically annihilated.


Even after the war, when the Irish Jewish community applied to allow 100 Jewish orphans into Ireland, permission was given only providing the Jewish community look after the children, and providing they left the country after a one-year stay in Clonyn Castle, Co Westmeath.


No More Blooms and the history of Ireland’s miserable treatment of refugees since the Second World War (‘Europe’s darkest hour’) is hugely pertinent today as we watch the march of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Sudan and elsewhere in the Global South towards the southern and eastern edges of Fortress Europe. 


The tide, it seems, cannot be stemmed, as resilient and strong-willed refugees crawl under barbed-wire fences and wash off onto the southern shores of the Mediterranean having taken rickety boats to freedom.


For the time being, the refugees’ march to freedom is big news. The European media, both traditional and social, has made iconic the photograph of Aylan Kurdi, the drowned three-year-old Kurdish toddler lying face down on the shores of Turkey, not to mention the endless YouTube videos of refugees arriving on makeshift boats in Italy and Greece, and breaking through makeshift fences along the Hungarian and Bulgarian borders.


News stories tell of heartfelt responses by Europeans demonstrating and collecting goods for refugees trapped in Calais. Others report about European leaders calling on EU states to share the burden, and on Europe’s southern citizens giving assistance – and even homes – to the refugees. 


However, the key motif is ‘Europe’s refugee crisis’ and the key discussion point is whether the fortress can cope with what is seen as an ‘onslaught’. Solutions such as the mayor of Barcelona calling to establish ‘refuge cities’ or the provision of accommodation places for fleeing refugees, while welcome, are all inadequate partial responses that do not recognise the days of Fortress Europe are numbered.


Like during the Nazi era, when Germans and other Europeans chose not to know about the Nazi extermination plans, today most Europeans prefer to defend Europe’s white, Christian identity and keep the fortress intact. Responses range from asking Israel about the high-technology anti-refugee fence on its border with Egypt, to talking about quotas, as Europe is intent on maintaining its white supremacy illusion and speaking about ‘these people’ as a problem to be solved at best, and as a threat at worst.


In view of Ireland’s laughable offer to admit a mere 600 Syrians, RTÉ should rebroadcast No More Blooms as a reminder of our moral responsibility to the millions of fleeing refugees. It would remind the Irish and their Government of the futility of pretending that Fortress Europe can remain intact.



Ronit Lentin is a retired associate professor of Sociology at Trinity College Dublin. Her column appears regularly in Metro Éireann

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