Address by the Burgomaster of the municipality Overbetuwe, Mr. Drs. A.S.F. van Asseldonk
at the Commemoration of the contribution of the
1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade
to Operation Market Garden, 71 years ago
Driel, 19 September 2015

It’s September 2015 and we still see images of desperate refugees trying to make their way into Europe every single day. Whilst we are gathered here in Driel today, there are thousands of people fleeing to a safe haven. And my words will undoubtedly conjure up some horrific images with many of you. Images of people floating around on seas in overfull boats, a drowned child washed up on a beach, bodies removed from a deserted truck, desperate people at a station in Budapest.

The Betuwe people must have felt just as desperate back in 1944. What’s going to happen to us, where are we supposed to go? Of course there was no television back then, but the stories are abundant proof of how horrific that time was. There was a great deal of war violence both here and in the direct vicinity. Many people lost their lives, houses were destroyed by gunfire and people had to go on the run.

With the exception of a limited number of men, the entire Betuwe population had to leave the area, in search of a safe haven. Thousands, tens of thousands of people in the Netherlands were on the run. Can you imagine? All these people eventually found somewhere to stay, and relatively quickly too. In other people’s homes, in sheds and sometimes even temporarily in a chicken coop. Looked after by the Dutch people and partly also in Belgium.

Emergency aid is now once again being organised in all manner of different locations throughout the Netherlands. This time to offer shelter to the many refugees from Syria, Eritrea and Ethiopia in market halls, empty office buildings, sports halls and barracks. Hundreds of new people are entering our country every single day. This means we need to look after refugees in more places in the Netherlands. These numbers are only expected to rise next year.

People in the Betuwe were dependent on others back in 1944. Now we are also ready to take responsibility and look after and help those people in need in Overbetuwe. I have been active within the Dutch Refugee Council myself for many years and I know what it means to people to build up a new life for themselves. This is incredibly difficult and is simply not possible without all of our help.

I have fortunately received plenty of indications from our society that people feel we need to do something in the form of clothing, money and accommodation. Sports clubs, service clubs and churches want to contribute too. The town council has called upon the Commission to take action.
It goes without saying that we, as a municipality and as your local government, are also looking into ways as to how we can contribute to looking after the refugees and status holders and we will soon be introducing concrete actions. As the Mayor, I am incredibly proud of how prepared people are to help, also here in Driel when the need arises.

It’s certainly not a good idea to ignore this problem. Just like it wouldn’t be a good idea to close our borders. We wouldn’t be doing so if we needed help from other countries, as was the case in 1944 with the Polish and other liberators. And we definitely shouldn’t be doing this now either, at a time when people from other countries need our help so desperately.

The 1944 history is repeating itself, in the sense that people are still fleeing their homes and we are obliged to do something about that. This commemoration therefore remains of extreme importance, in order to continue to connect the past and the present.