Safe Havens - Why We Are Where We Are
The current promise by the UK government to support refugees from Syria and nearby war torn areas in 'safe havens' has, as some critics point out, an underlying reason to 'keep refugees out' of Britain.
I spoke to Dr Henriette Louwerse from the Dutch Study Centre at the University of Sheffield recently, about a parallel incident that occurred some 70 years ago when a similar initiative by the Dutch government eventually collapsed and de-stabilised the lives of 15,000 Indonesian refugees.
Henriette told me that she teaches the subject of Dutch colonialism and multiculturalism to her international cohort of students who take Dutch Studies, often as a second or third language option to the main language they have chosen to study. We talked about the legacy of Dutch colonialism and compared this to they way the British had expanded their empire, often for similar purposes and with similar means. But whereas Dutch prime minister Balkenende was shouted down when he, not long ago, made a reference to a need to return to the spirit of the VOC (Dutch East Indies Company), the same didn't happen in Britain, when Boris Johnson referred to the Brits needing to return to the spirit of the Great British Empire. No doubt he will refer to this many times over the coming weeks in his Brexit campaign to get Britain out of the European Union.
Nicole and I are trying to secure a small funding pot to help our project off the ground, initially by conducting face to face recorded interviews with some of the men who were part of the peace keeping force on New Guinea between 1961 and 1963, as well as some of the 8 surviving daughters of an Indonesian settler on New Guinea.
This project would also allow us to make contact with artists initiatives currently working in the Netherlands, who are already exploring the historical impact of colonialism on Dutch society today. Perhaps the Dutch are a little ahead of coming to terms and being more open about the legacy of their colonial past, a legacy that still plays its part in the greater upheaval of recent times.
The idea is then to turn our recordings and findings into a ‘trailer’ (podcast / video or both) and this would hopefully enable us to lever more support from the UK and The Netherlands to invest in a bigger project that will focus on investigating parallel histories and legacies around colonisation, mass migration, multiculturalism in both the UK and The Netherlands.
Both nations are now much smaller and have a culturally diverse society where freedom of expression and religion is tolerated and often celebrated. How strange then, perhaps, that both countries are also reacting in similar ways to the current refugee crisis by not accepting their fair share of refugees. Even those whose own parents had to flee their homelands, people like Boris Johnson and Geert Wilders are very vocal about not accepting people whose lives are affected by war. Wars that perhaps are still a result of the longer lasting legacy of our colonial past.