For thousands of years, humans have roamed the earth, creating civilisations, language and art. But the world today appears to be a hostile place for people on the move, especially those escaping lands ravaged by war and climate strife. Nation-states are only a few hundred years old, but borders are being reinforced ruthlessly by xenophobic nationalism, resulting in purges of millions — those deemed stateless, refugees and “illegals”. But, as a village in Germany has shown, the answer to the crisis of this century does not lie in the high walls of massive detention centres. It could lie in the open doors of a school in need of children.
Golzow is a village in what was once communist East Germany, with a depleting young population. In 2015, its mayor decided to welcome 16 Syrian refugees into the village. The local school got a set of new students, lovingly called the “new children of Golzow”. While Germany, like many European countries, is not immune to paranoia about the loss of jobs and resources to outsiders, Golzow turned out to be an example of a silent integration. The German village is not an outlier. The experience of several First World countries, grappling with falling birth rates and a large geriatric population, show that migrants are like a surge of fresh blood in old arteries, giving new life to economies and cultures. It is the dangerous proof that the populist leaders of the world do not ask for: You could embrace the other, and be the richer for it.
But the example of Golzow goes beyond the utilitarian claims of mutual material benefit. It demonstrates that the commonality of human experience is of loss, violence and ultimate resilience. What could be common between a village of ageing East Germans and the youngest of Syrian refugees? Both flinch at firecrackers going off — it reminds them of exploding grenades.