The worn leather of a suitcase

Posted on 14. April 2016

by Maël Baseilhac

Mael BaseilhacNowadays, in a world in which top news stories are replaced in daily succession and in which information has become yet another product to consume and to entertain, we, unfortunately, no longer take the time to consider the weight of words.

After the media landscape had been dedicated solely to the “migration crisis” in Europe for some time, the most recent events have now literally replaced this extremely essential and fundamental question of how to define our societies and our identity.  From the perspective of a Frenchman living in Morocco, the handling of the inflow of migrants was disastrous at all levels, both at a practical level as well as at that of political instrumentalisation. Conjuring up a subjective parallel between the Moroccan and the French situation, “I”, as La Rumeur wrote in 2002, “let the worn leather of a suitcase speak from a corner […], spewing at fate that it did not come in vain… 1

Long live the quick descent into oblivion

After questions on dealing with the inflow of migrants and the myriad of humanitarian disasters occurring weekly had dominated the French news desks as the main topic for weeks on end, I discovered, much to my surprise, that all antennae directed at this topic had suddenly been switched off.

The attacks in Brussels on 22 March demanded the media’s attention worldwide; that is perfectly normal and understandable. But, although the presence of this surplus for voyeuristic media-effective exploitation has decreased, these other topics that seemed to be at the core of political debates on a national and a European level, have suddenly been cloaked in silence. And if I tune into the news in France today, on 31 March 2016, the talk only revolves around demonstrations against the El Khomri law (the planned amendment to the labour law) and preparatory measures for the 2016 European Football Championships. Where did the migrants of the “Calais Jungle” go, whose emergency shelters were destroyed by backhoe loaders (which even sparked the outrage and support of actor Jude Law, hooray)? Where are the dozens of migrants, who drown month after month off our coasts? Where were the war refugees sent, who have arrived in Europe since the start of the Syrian war?

My personal situation is a daily reminder of just how inevitable the question of receiving migrants in Europe is. In actual fact, I am, as I keep reminding my surroundings, a migrant myself, or rather an immigrant. I have lived in Morocco for four years now, and I, myself, am a grandchild and a son of immigrants. Apart from this, the question of receiving foreigners, no matter where they are from and regardless of their reasons for migration, is an extremely intimate and almost fundamental question. After all, it is precisely the living conditions of the weakest, which measure the progressiveness of a civilisation best.

One racist phenomenon often conceals another 

Morocco is a very particular country when it comes to the integration of its migrants. Because, even if the French (which are referred to as “expats” rather than “immigrants” here) enjoy a warm and straight-forward admission, it is generally known that a certain portion of the Moroccan population harbours a deep albeit unjustified aversion to migrants from sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, there is a certain, very distinct form of racist class-consciousness that exists in Morocco. Time and again Moroccan landlords informed me on my search for an apartment that they do not want to let to foreigners (i.e. White people). They quoted the exact series of clichés, which they are victims to in France themselves. How can this phenomenon be explained? Especially in these troubled times of pronounced reversion to the own identity, the Moroccans in France are the first victims of xenophobia and rejection and, in spite of all their own experience, they respond with an analogue reversion to their identity in regards to other migrants who are seeking asylum in Morocco. It would seem then that all of us are racist in regard to one another.

The European response

Amidst the migration crisis, Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, made an announcement on 3 March 2016 to all potential migrants of the world that turned my stomach. “Don’t come to Europe”, he declared in front of all TV stations present. So this is Europe’s response to the unparalleled humanitarian crisis? What a disgrace and what an affront to tell families who are fleeing from war in pursuit of saving their own lives: “We’re sorry, our doors are closed; not to mention the immense failure of judgement that this sentence reveals. Who can believe for even a second that this rejection of hundreds of thousands of migrants, who are desperate enough to risk their lives, could prevent them from knocking on the door of the legal persona who received the Peace Nobel Prize in 2012. It is pointless to comment on all explanations of various state representatives of the EU relating to this (and I repeat myself, continuing and aggravating) crisis in detail, we would just lose sight of the purpose of this analysis. But how can you remain silent in light of this monstrous mix up of topics, which has led to the Polish Government closing its borders to migrants as a reaction to the attacks in Brussels? Was there even one single migrant who has been revealed to be connected to the attacks that have shaken Paris or Brussels to the bone? All the accused are children of the Republic, who were born and raised among us, in their home country.

The historic perspective

In short, if this article rather reminds you of a column, it is because it is impossible for me to keep my countenance, in regard to this question and in regard to its political and demagogic instrumentalisation, which will plunge the European Union into an identity crisis and back into nationalism, which it will not recover from. Let us remind ourselves of the risk that history may possibly not go as easy on us Europeans in a few decades time, based on the fact that we are not in a position to take the measures that our fundamental values – of which we often boast – actually demand. Let us also remember that tens of thousands of Europeans fled from the war in the 1940s and again that it was immigrants who rebuilt Europe after WWII. We should not forget that immigration is a strength and not a burden. Words from an immigrant.


1. Le cuir usé d’une valise, L’Ombre sur la mesure, La Rumeur, 2002