Airolo is one of those places that used to be a quaint alpine village, but then large projects changed the town forever. In this case it was first the construction of the Gotthard railway tunnel, and then the motorway, as the primary connection between northern and southern Switzerland; one of the primary road connections between northern and southern Europe. Still, the Italian-looking town on the south side of the Gotthard Pass has retained some charm, but one has to look for it.
Airolo and its infrastructure
From Airolo today (Wednesday) I started my trajectory toward the Valais/Wallis, the south-western canton of Switzerland, following the Bedretto valley. For most of the day I hiked along perfectly scenic trails (see the pictures), first following the valley itself, and then heading up onto the pastures on the southern mountainsides of the Val Bedretto. All day, as so often on this trek, the peaks of the mountains remained hidden in the clouds.
Beautiful trails in the Val Bedretto
In the afternoon a fierce wind began to pick up, bringing with it horizontal rain and a rather nasty cold. Right now, lying in the Capanna Corno Gries (2338m), just below the Griespass in a very exposed location, it sounds almost as if the roaring wind were trying to tear the hut apart. I am not at all worried; it is a solid, modern structure. But it would definitely not have been a good night for sleeping outside, that’s for sure. Being in the mountains teaches one the literal and figurative significance of the word “refuge”.
Capanna Corno Gries
Before I started this trip, I received an email from a Dutch acquaintance, who said he thought the trip itself was very cool, but he disagreed with the political propose. I think his arguments are worth briefly discussing. My acquaintance, whom I have no reason to believe to be racist or xenophobic, basically made three arguments which are all somewhat commonplace: 1, there is a lot of abuse of asylum; 2, not every foreigner is a desirable foreigner; 3, being too liberal on immigration risks giving right-wing populists more wind in their sails. For points 1 and 2 he gave some illustrative stories, which he said were from personal experience.
My response to 1 and 2 would be that the primary problem is not whom the European immigration regime lets in, but whom it keeps out. In my opinion the risk of denying refuge to someone who needs help is far greater than the risk of letting someone inside Europe who could perhaps also live somewhere else. The humanitarian cost of denying a genuine application for asylum is far higher than that of accepting a false one; the denied applicant may die or be tortured, the falsely accepted applicant will only get some undeserved help. And arguing that foreigners must be kept out because some foreigners are criminals: this discriminates clearly against the majority, who are not criminals. It is like saying some Germans are Nazis, so no Germans should be allowed to travel to another country.
But I think the third argument is most the most evidently flawed one. Pursuing a more restrictive immigration policy in order to pacify right-wingers, to prevent them from getting more power, already in fact gives them more power than they deserve. It gives then what they want, without them even needing to fight for it. No, the solution to xenophobic or racist attitudes can never be to appease these attitudes; it can only be to challenge them and to fight for the right thing.
Have a nice day,