By Maitet Ledesma
They called it the GREAT IRISH FAMINE. But there was nothing great about the 1850s famine in Ireland. The famine was a man-made disaster. People died of starvation because the landlords owned the land. The local population who tilled the land did not own it, and therefore, had no access to it in order to grow food to feed themselves and their families.
And while the landlords enriched themselves and lived in the lap of luxury by exporting the food produced from their land by disenfranchised peasants, more than 1 million people were left to die of starvation or disease – to put that in today’s context, an equivalent loss of around 40 million people in the US.
The population at that time was further decimated as entire families, even whole villages left the country en masse because this was their only survival option. In 1847 alone 250,000 people left the country and over a six-year period, more than 2 million were forced to migrate.
The Great Irish Famine must be remembered as the ‘Genocide Famine’ and the keepers of this collective memory, the people of Ireland, must call on those historically responsible to render just retribution.
Today, the countryside of Ireland is dotted with innocent looking mounds, the unmarked mass graves of those who perished from this systemic genocide perpetuated by the unjust concentration and control of land and agricultural production in the hands of a few, the monopolies of old. Today, generations of Irish can be found in New York and Boston, in Sydney and Adelaide, in London and Liverpool, in Quebec and Toronto.
How many of those who left the shores of Ireland were lost at sea, en-route or upon arriving at their destinations? How many of them were cheated of their meager savings by unscrupulous businessmen who overcrowded privately owned ships in order to get more fares?
Today, the “coffin ships” are back. They cross the Mediterranean sea everyday, bringing an exodus of Palestinians, Somalians, Syrians, Libyans, Ethiopians, Iraqis, Kurds – people fleeing for their lives, their countries ravaged by resource grabs and ensuing proxy wars and wars of aggression; fleeing famine, their lands plundered by the ‘empire in new clothes’ – big business monopolies and their transnational corporations, supported by the ruling elites and military infrastructure of their countries which are at their disposal, and whose greed and hunger for ever-growing profits knows no boundaries, respects no laws.
Film by Dave Donnellan
In the Philippines today, forced migration has displaced a 10th of our population of over 100 million. Filipinos work in over 168 countries as pineapple pickers in Hawaii, tuna factory workers in Alaska, nurses in Ireland, construction workers in the Middle East, factory workers in Korea, as nannies and domestic helpers in Italy. Nearly 6,000 Filipinos leave the country everyday to look for work overseas. They sell whatever meager possessions they have, borrow money from usurers and remain in debt for many in order to put together their ‘passage’ to hope. En-route, they fall prey to human traffickers and international criminal and drug syndicates who take advantage of their vulnerability and desperation.
Take the case of Mary Jane Velosa, a 32-year old single mother of 2 young boys is still on death row. She was tricked into smuggling 2.6 kilos of heroin into Indonesia by those pretending to help her find a job as a domestic helper in Malaysia.
Last April 29, international public outcry put pressure on Pres. Widodo of Indonesia to stay her execution by firing squad at the last hour and upon further investigation of her claim that she was, indeed, a victim of human trafficking and appeals for a judicial review of her case. 88 more Filipinos are on death row in the Middle East.
The Irish people must become the memory bearers of hunger and forced diaspora. This memory must be honored by compelling the world to take up the cause of the most disenfranchised and powerless wherever they come from, and by defying the culture of fear imposed by the ‘empire’, wherever it rears its ugly head.
This memory must be redeemed in painstakingly working for an alternative vision of a world that is founded on the principles of equality, justice, solidarity, genuine democracy and finally…peace. Our shared humanity must compel us all not to allow history to continue repeating itself.
Never again! Not in our names!
Maitet Singson-Ledesma is a global citizen. She was born in the Philippines and is a naturalized Irish citizen living in Amsterdam and working in Brussels. She has lived in Europe for the past 32 years. She is a community and political activist, solidarity and development worker who works with migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, the women and youth and civil society organizations advocating for equality and social emancipation, development justice, human rights and peace. Ledesma currently serves as deputy secretary general of the International Women’s Alliance, a global alliance of grassroots women’s organizations, institutions, alliances, networks, and individuals committed to advancing women’s genuine emancipation and social liberation in the world. She is the regional coordinator of IBON International’s Representative Office in Brussels. IBON is an international development NGO that builds the capacity of southern social movements and grassroots people’s organizations addressing climate change, food sovereignty, sustainable development, development effectiveness, migration, human rights, democracy and peace, and brings the voices and perspectives of the Global South to the North on these issues.
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