“It’s tragic, but we’re not surprised.” This comment by one of the hundreds of Londoners who paid tribute to the 39 migrants found dead in the back of a truck in Essex early Wednesday morning is so complete and accurate that it is almost frightening. 

Thirty-nine migrants froze to death or died of asphyxiation while chasing the dream of reaching the West with the mediation of a human trafficking or illegal migration ring. What do these details matter anyway? These people were crammed in the back of the truck for at least 10 hours in temperatures of around minus 25 degrees Celsius. 

In recent years, as the wave of migration and human displacement has intensified, such stories have become so numerous that our sensitivity has been blunted instead of sharpened.

We respond instinctively, we don’t think. The amount of time we have to process emotions has been minimized, along with our understanding, as arguments degenerating to the awful phrase, “If you want migrants, take them into your own home.” And that’s where the conversation ends abruptly. 

This “argument” is gaining ground in Greece. At dawn last Wednesday outside the village of Vrasna in northern Greece, local residents prevented 400 migrants who had traveled from Samos and were supposed to be accommodated at hotels in the area from getting off buses. 

The residents explained why they didn’t want the new arrivals – explanations are always provided – and the division deepened. On the one hand we have those who react against providing the migrants with hospitality, and on the other those who criticize those who react.

And smack in the middle is the state. “Yes, there are refugees/migrants… but we must also think of local residents…” is the standard response uttered by politicians, local society and local government.

In this case, we could say, “It’s tragic, but we’re not surprised.” And this is how dehumanization continues without protective barriers.

These events were quite different; only time (both happened on Wednesday morning) brought them closer. But the sheer size of the refugee and migrant issue is defining the 21st century globally, and imagining that the problem will simply disappear is unrealistic.

The role of governments and public figures is becoming increasingly complicated. On the one hand, those with power must find ways of organizing this human movement, on the other, we must officially add dehumanization to our vocabulary. By naming it, we can see ourselves and others more clearly.

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