I live in Cyprus, an island in the Mediterranean Sea, in the middle of the East and the West. Since 2014 thousands of illegal immigrants have died in the Mediterranean Sea in an effort to attain a better life both for themselves and their children. Packed on unsafe boats, they leave their countries, endanger their lives and the lives of their children in hopes of a better future. These people leave a hostile motherland to move to unwelcoming new homes. However, many of them never reach their destinations. The reports about shipwrecks near Greece and other European countries are abundant, the deaths of these people and their struggles are serious matters, but they remain distant from a Western person’s life.
A few days ago, I was reading a newspaper article explaining that British tourists were fed up with illegal immigrants sleeping in the streets of the Greek island of Kos and spoiling the scenery for them. They were even thinking of not going back. As I read the article, I was astonished at how someone can describe another human life as a “stain” of sorts, as something that is not supposed to be there and has to be removed.
The 20th of July is the anniversary of what we—the Greek Cypriots—call the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, and what Turkish authorities have been calling a peaceful intervention. As a result of this intervention, many Greek Cypriots became refugees in the southern part of the country. They lost their properties, many died and some are still missing. Turkish-Cypriots have also been uprooted from their properties in the northern part of the island, many have been killed and generations of Cypriots have been raised with a sense of hatred for the evils of the other side, and with inadequate knowledge of the harms their side has caused.
My parents were not refugees. I was lucky enough not to live through the war, and to be given the opportunity to have a secure life and to be educated. Today, 41 years after the Turkish intervention, Greek-Cypriots remember the events of 1974 and the uprooting that took place. When I think about what happened then, and what is happening now in the waters of the Mediterranean which seem to devour many lives, I realize that history repeats itself in harsh ways.
The lives of those who are less fortunate tend to be seen as unimportant and therefore, as Judith Butler has put it, disposable. While most of us take many things for granted, there are people who are on the verge of destruction and take desperate, hopeless measures in search of a better future. The least we—the more privileged and fortunate ones—can do is to respect their struggle and their humanity. It is only through mutual respect that we can attempt to create a better future both for us and those who need us to survive.
This essay is part of a series written by female academics from Europe and the Middle East. After completing the same doctoral program at the University of Manchester in England, their lives took significantly different turns. Their thoughtful reflections on the future offer deep and varied insights into personal, professional and global matters. Edited by Irene Huhulea.
“Disposable Lives” was published in the Future issue in Fall 2015.