‘Europe has never seen such a number of immigrants since the fall of the Roman empire’ and ‘no European country can cope with so many in such a short time’!

I believe you’re already familiar with such headlines, right?

The Greek exodus from Smyrna in Turkey is the seminal event in Tsalikoglou’s haunting novel. Topical Press Agency / Getty Images
Greek tragedies: The Secret Sister is a novel about the impossibility of escaping the past.

Let me remind you of some facts.
“Settlement in Greece was not a uniform experience for the approximately one million Ottoman Greeks who fled Turkey in the aftermath of the Greco-Turkish war of 1920-1922. Contemporary primary sources ranging from government reports to eyewitness accounts and memoirs of relief workers point to a mixed reality: while some Ottoman Greek refugees enjoyed hospitality and warm support upon arrival in Greece, many others found settlement in the new country a painful experience of material hardship, segregation, and status deprivation. The precarious circumstances of the massive exodus created the refugee drama. The inability of the Greek state to handle a crisis of such magnitude, along with the serious incidents of refugee discrimination and exploitation by Greek officials ans civilians, exacerbated the refugee’s plight.”

Similarly “During the First World War and the subsequent Greco-Turkish War (1920–1922) about 1.2 million Muslims migrated to Turkey, among them the 400,000 persons who were forcibly exchanged as a result of the Treaty of Lausanne.”

So two war torn countries, Greece and Turkey, were able to absorb, without really major problems, about a million refugees each – 17% and 7.5% of the respective populations. Maybe this will give us some perspective. One million refugees represents less than 0.2% of the current population of the EU and less than 1.2% of the population of Germany.

OK, now you’ll tell me that those headed to Greece and Turkey  were going home while these coming to Europe will suffer a cultural shock.
There might be some truth in both assertions, of course. Yet I beg you to read again the quote about the fate of the Greek refugees who ‘came home from Turkey’. In the end they somehow managed to fold in. Same thing happened with the “the (mostly Greek-speaking) Muslim population” that was “compulsory” transferred to Turkey.

So how about we quit whining and start helping these poor people in earnest?

It’s not our responsibility, you say?

Maybe not but how about taking a second glance at history?

The tragedy experienced by the 2 million people exchanged between Turkey and Greece was due, at least in part, to the Treaty of Sevres which was imposed by the Allies to the Ottoman empire and which inspired Kemal Ataturk to raise arms and forge the present day Turkey. Just as the fate experienced now by the Syrian people is influenced not only by Sykes-Picot but also by us dragging our feet while the Assads, both father and son, were massacring their ‘subjects’.

But how about the fate of the Roman Empire that had fallen under the burden of the immigrants?
First of all I must remember you that the Roman Empire had a mixed population to begin with and that the Romans themselves had invited more than one migratory tribe to come in and contribute to the well fare of the empire. For instance the German and Iazyges soldiers that were settled by the Romans in Britain.
Then I must remind you that the western part of the Roman Empire started to crumble only after it had become an extremely authoritarian state, where the rulers were concerned more about fulfilling their obscene pleasures and less with the management of the current problems of the empire. Panem et circenses was their preferred method of governing, if that rings any bells.

The point is that exactly as the protagonists of The Secret Sister cannot escape their history neither of us will be able to escape the consequences of our actions. Or inaction.

And another lesson from the Ancient Times: no wall was ever tall enough to keep out those who really wanted to get in. Neither Hadrian’s nor the Chinese Walls had been able to protect those inside from their own ineptitude.

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