You wouldn't treat your dog as badly

Oct 5th, 2008 | By | Category: International

Asked when the programme appeared on television, the answer would have been in the last ten years. The closing scenes are moving; a quarter of a million refugees stand on the Moroccan coast looking at Gibraltar.  The European Commissioner handling the situation is an Irishwoman; the Irish are ‘good guys’ in world politics, an Irish commissioner would surely make the right decisions.

Faced with a sea of refugees, she refuses to allow them to cross into Spain.  The leader of the refugees offers that the Africans will come and be pets for European families; the commissioner is advised that the annual expenditure on pets in Europe is larger than the annual income of many Africans.

It was a profoundly moving drama; others maybe do not think so, for it seems to have been buried, undiscoverable even by Google.

It was not broadcast in the last ten years, it was broadcast eighteen years ago, the only reference easily found on the Net is a “New York Times” report from 1995:

Having struggled across the Sahara, 250,000 starving Sudanese refugees assemble on the Moroccan coast, hoping to cross the Straits of Gibraltar to Europe. As an armada of camera crews film them, the refugee’s leader launches this challenge to European Union coastal guards who would stop them: “All we ask of you is, watch us die.”

The event is pure fiction, the final scene of a 1990 BBC television drama. But development experts say it neatly illustrates a stark choice looming for the industrialized world: Pitch in more energetically to bring Africa into the global economic fold, or wait and watch as the continent descends into a quickening spiral of disaster.

Images from that drama came to mind as my colleague Niall this evening described the daily life of a ‘settlement’ in South Africa that he had visited in July;  a community of 15,000 people share five water taps.  If it sounded shocking, there was a need to remember that this was one of the better places to be in Africa.  Life in Darfur in western Sudan, or in many other spots in sub-Saharan Africa, is unimaginable.

As rich countries ponder their successive financial crises, and governments protest that there is no money to help poor people in their own countries, (despite finding billions for bankers), the people who will disappear from the picture are the poorest of all, those who would have a better quality of life if they came to Europe to live as pets.

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