Watching the Syrians and other who are fleeing violence, I can only wonder why the United States is not more welcoming. We are quick to shake our heads and purse our lips when discussing the European Union’s inability to come up with quotas based on the size of the country and their economy, but what about us? We have lots of space and our economy is much better than some.
Given our resources, I hardly think that the estimated 1,500 refugees we have accepted so far is anything to brag about. As for next year, I have read that we will accept between 5,000 and 8,000 more refugees. Are any of the potential presidential candidates speaking out on the refugee crisis? I think not. The Statue of Liberty must be shaking her head.
Is there a chance that among the refugees we may inadvertently welcome some disaffected jihadists? Probably. However, ignoring the humanitarian crisis may fuel home-grown jihadists as well.
I was quite taken with an opinion piece published in this past Sunday’s New York Times written by Bill Chappell, a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School. Chappell’s piece is titled “The Refugee Crisis Isn’t a ‘European Problem.” You can read it for yourself at <http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/06/opinion/sunday/therefugeecrisis.com>. In short, Chappell asked some very good questions. My favorite question was, “If we’ve been arming Syrian rebels, shouldn’t we also be helping people trying to get out of their way?”
A year ago I had a first-person encounter with boat people. I was at a dive resort in the Caribbean, and while there, 24 Cubans (crowded in a homemade boat bound for Miami) came within sight of our dock. For fear of arrest, they did not disembark; however, they called out for water, food, and medicine. My first response was, “What were they thinking!!” What circumstances would lead me to risking my life in such a small boat on the high seas?
I was hesitant to go down to the dock and take photos. How could I, one of the “haves,” capitalize on the misfortune of “have-nots”? I kept my distance: I stood on the balcony off our room and took photos from afar. I have given a lot of thought to my discomfiture. What was the difference between taking a close-up photo from the dock and taking a photo from my balcony?
I took the above photo when local officials turned a blind-eye and allowed the boat people to sit on the dock and ‘stretch their legs’ while resort guests and personnel ferried supplies to the boat.
I think some of my discomfort is what I’ll call ‘survivors’ guilt.’ Living the sweet life, I feel guilty when it comes to dealing with the disposed. Not that I haven’t worked hard, but I came to life with advantages that included adequate food, warm housing, caring parents, and education. I have been very lucky. I have survived, and with that survival comes guilt. Although the Cubans were ‘economic migrants’ and not fleeing the ravages of war, they were desperate enough to risk their lives for what they hoped would be a better life. I can’t imagine circumstances that would lead to me to risking my life.
Even the least lucky American is luckier than a refugee in flight. Avoiding the issue… dismissing the refugee crisis as Europe’s problem, is not in Europe’s best interest nor is it in ours. The world is smaller every day. We must engage and pull our oar or suffer the consequences. Shame on those who are turning a blind eye.