I originally wrote and published this piece on September 21, 2015. It’s stayed with me and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. On Friday, the President of the United States signed an executive order that temporarily bans Syrian refugees from entering the country and puts a four-month hold on the greater refugee program, which has allowed people to flee their homelands and take refuge in the United States. The order pertains to refugees, visa holders and other people from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen. The goal is to *supposedly* keep Islamic extremists and terrorists out of this country for at least 90 days. But still, there’s no evidence terrorists were coming in. Tomorrow I’ll be posting how this affects me. But for now, here are my thoughts and I hold that I still want to help refugees.
The millions of people from Syria, Iraq, Eritrea, and Afghanistan retracing the routes used by European refugees in the 1940s seeking asylum have had a significant impact on me over the last month. I’ve seen pictures of people crowding on boats and trains seeking a better life. There are so many families and individuals traveling to Western Europe to find asylum in countries that will accept them. This is no easy task for migrants or host countries, though. I’ve been thinking about why these images and are making such an indelible impression.
When I consider history for the last seventy years, I’m reminded of the diplomats in Geneva who committed their countries to absorbing huge numbers of refugees from regions plagued by ethnic hatred, fanatical ideology, and insufferable war. The second world war left millions of people wandering across Europe, and these refugees were known as “displaced persons.” The United Nations-mandated Geneva conference agreed on a convention that required its participating members to grant refugee status whenever a refugee had a “well-founded fear of being persecuted” in his or her country of origin.
Right now, most of the refugees are heading to Germany, Sweden, Greece and other places in Western Europe. America has agreed to accept 85,000 Syrians in 2016 and up to 100,000 in 2017 (source: New York Times). This is complex issue for me. I wish the United States would grant more visas to people in need. On the other hand, thousands of refugees seek asylum in the U.S. on a regular basis and host countries (US and all other host countries) have to consider how absorption is to be handled. Governments must appease anxieties as well as find solutions for housing resources, education, crime prevention, language immersion, and workforce strain. Will immigrants mesh well into host country culture? America has had periods of doubt, including around 1945 when they did not want to accept “communists” into their borders. The millions of people from southern and eastern Europe who arrived at the end of the 19th century provoked fears of anarchist terrorism. Today, some of the fears in accepting immigrants from Syria stem from worries over Islamic terrorism.
Given that America is a land of immigrants, I want to help refugees seeking safety, freedom of religion, speech, or economic prosperity. We all came here from somewhere. I think of my own great-grandfather who arrived at Ellis Island in 1910 seeking a better life. He prospered by traveling westward to a coal mining town in northeastern New Mexico and running a store there from 1916 until we closed it in 2011. For ninety-five years, my family held onto an immigrant credo that America was the land where dreams were made.
I’m not sure how to help Syrian, Eritrean, or other refugee people. I personally want to do more to assist families or individuals seeking asylum. I don’t have the funds to sponsor a family’s visa to come to the United States. But, if I had space, could they stay with me? Would I open my home to strangers? Honestly, I’d like to think I would. I would like to be able to make life better for an individual or family who is fleeing Civil War or hate. Even helping one person is doing more for humanity than doing nothing.
For me, it boils down to this: seeing populations suffering at the hands of their governmental regimes, feeling like they don’t have a place to call home, breaks my heart and serves as a call to action. It reminds me of the diaspora of Jews during the Holocaust, the Armenians, the Vietnamese boat-people, and the Ugandan Asians. All of these groups of people didn’t know a way out or were left to fend for themselves, with mild support from other countries. They needed more advocacy and kind leaders to help them stay safe. There were righteous and benevolent individuals who came out of the woodwork to help, but not enough. I don’t want this to happen again. Thus, I feel like it’s my responsibility to do something.
Like I just mentioned, I don’t know how I can help. Writing this blog is certainly not enough. If anyone knows of ways to help an individual or family, please contact me. I’d love to explore different options of support.
Please comment on the blog if you have ideas.