Migrant stories: Steve Jobs, Sergey Brin and Syrian boy who died

  • Suveen Sinha, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Sep 13, 2015 21:47 IST
Apple founder Steve Jobs (L) and Google co-founder Sergey Brin (R). Jobs' father was a Syrian immigrant. Brin was born in Moscow.

Abdulfattah Jandali, born and raised in Homs, Syria's third largest city, wanted to become a diplomat. He came to the United States in 1952 for a PhD in political science, which he completed in four years. He also acquired a girlfriend during this period, Joanne Schieble, and got her pregnant in 1954. Simpson's father, according to a Wall Street Journal report of 2011, did not approve of the relationship.

Why, you might ask, was the WSJ reporting on an affair that took place 57 years earlier? It was because Schieble, who later came to be known as Joanne Simpson, went away for a while, delivered her baby, and put him up for adoption. The baby, Steve, was adopted by Paul Jobs and his wife Clara. He went on to set up a company called Apple.

Sergey Brin was born in Moscow in 1973. His father, a mathematician economist, moved his family to the United States in 1979 to escape Jewish persecution, with help from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

Brin met Larry Page at Stanford. The two worked together on a research project that created a search engine, which they named Google. It has now grown into a big corporate gorilla that has perhaps the most ambitious projects of any company in the world. Those include self driving cars and increasing human longevity. In 2009, Brin gave a million dollars to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

Forbes magazine once describe Andrew Grove as a man who survived the Nazis, the Communists, scarlet fever, prostate cancer and Bill Gates to run what was briefly one of the world's five most valuable companies. He was born in Hungary, came to the US in 1957, and went on to become Intel's employee number one. He was so synonymous with the company for so long that the sticker on your computer could have just as well said "Andy inside".

At the age of 10, the only English word Jerry Yang could speak was "shoe". That would not surprise anyone who knows that Yang was born in Taiwan in 1968 and came to the US in 1978. Seventeen years later, after graduating from Stanford in electrical engineering, he dropped out of PhD to co-found Yahoo Company.

It is a relief that none of these people were found lying face down, their lifeless body washed ashore. That little boy was a Syrian, like Jobs' father.

Syrians form the largest group reaching Europe through the Mediterranean or the western Balkans. They are fleeing a civil war. There are other refugees, fleeing strife and hardship, trying to reach Europe, much of which does not want them, for the fear that the influx will spoil their good life. So what happens?

According to numbers put out by the Financial Times, 2,643 migrants died on the Mediterranean sea this year. A shipwreck 120 miles south of Lampedusa killed another 800. As many as 317 drowned between Libya and Lampedusa. Seventy-one bodies, believed to be Syrian migrants, were found in an abandoned lorry in Austria.

Thank God for Angela Merkel. Germany has taken in more asylum seekers than any other European Union member. And the German Chancellor has been pressing other countries to share the burden of migration.

There is a point of view that is very different from Merkel's. It says these people are not refugees. That refugees flee from strife to the nearest safe country. The safe country closest to Syria is Turkey. Why are they trying to get into Greece? Are they trying to get to a safe country or a rich, good life? Not that Greece is much rich these days, but those who raise these questions use the term migrants, and not refugees.

These are difficult questions to answer. Not just because many migrants have gone on to become celebrated entrepreneurs and create enormous wealth for a lot of people. That they did. But not every migrant will, not every migrant can. But every migrant deserves to live.

That little boy did.

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