OPINION

On human value…

When they are alive and well and in our midst, they scare us. They only become people after they die – having suffocated in a ship’s hold, frozen to death in the back of a truck or blown apart by landmines. We are more affected when the dead are children; 5-year-old girls, babies, bobbing on the waves like so many discarded plastic bags. They could be our own children, we muse. But our horror is not overwhelming. How could it be? To share the grief for all these deaths, we would need more than one heart, we tell ourselves. And if our memory was capable of preserving all the pain of the past, we would buckle under such a weight. We enjoy our lives, we ponder on old wise sayings precisely because we are able to forget. In the case of illegal immigrants, we forget very quickly. And not because we have one heart rather than a thousand. But because pain, when it is someone else’s, is always explicable, comprehensible (it is only our own grief that is unfair, irrational, inconceivable). Migrants dare to cross the stormy sea in a children’s dinghy because they are desperate. They know that smugglers sometimes throw migrants overboard to evade arrest. But they take this risk because they are poor. Those who can afford it pay a bit more to cross the Aegean on speedboats thanks to a well-organized and lucrative Turkish machine which «exports» the problem of illegal immigration. Clearly, we are not all equal before death, as some of us can do more to ward it off than others.