Why America must help with the migrant crisis
Since 2013, thousands of people from Syria and other Middle Eastern and African countries have fled to seek asylum in Europe. 4.1 million Syrians have seen their homes, schools, and neighborhoods have been leveled by Assad’s tanks, burnt by barrel bombs, or overrun by ISIS. Other countries ravaged by violence, such as Eritrea, Libya, and Afghanistan, have contributed to what is becoming one of the largest migrations of displaced peoples in a generation. They seek asylum in Europe, with over half a million arriving there this year, and even greater numbers expected in the year to come. The journey has not been without costs: over six thousand have died along the way in the past year and a half alone, dying from poor sanitation, hunger, or sinking on overcrowded boats ill-suited for the cruelties of the sea. One smuggler abandoned seventy-one refugees locked in the back of his truck on the side of the road, where they starved and suffocated to death.
The welcome the migrants have received in Europe has not been a warm one. While Germany has pledged to accept 800,000 asylum seekers, other nations have either been more tepid or downright hostile. France has committed to accepting 20,000, and other nations, such as Slovakia, Hungary and Poland, will only accept refugees if they’re Christian.
Treatment of the migrants already in Europe has been deplorable; in Italy, migrants who enter the country are sent to prison, and anyone who aids the migrants are fined. Guards on the borders of Hungary, Italy, and Macedonia have beaten migrants, and those who are granted access stay in detention centers where food is thrown to crowds to fight over. In Greece, the camps have little food, virtually no health services, poor sanitation, and not enough roofs to give people shelter at night. Most in the detention centers have no way of leaving, no way of contacting people outside, and have faced beatings and even rape at the hands of guards. They have escaped one circle of hell only to enter another.
Why would refugees be treated so terribly? In Europe, Islamophobia has a foothold in right wing politics. Just twenty years ago, Balkan nations tried to eradicate Muslims in Bosnia; tensions between Europe and the Islamic world date back to the Middle Ages. Now, in a post 9/11 world, this anti-Islamic sentiment has resurfaced. With Burka bans in France, regulating of worship practices in Poland, and the presence of anti-Islamic rhetoric in political campaigns, the treatment of migrants shouldn’t be much of a surprise.
These attitudes, unfortunately, have been shared in our own country. While President Obama has announced that the U.S. will take in 10,000 more migrants, the majority of GOP Presidential candidates have pledged to not take in any refugees. Donald Trump announced to cheering crowds that, if elected, the 10,000 migrants are going to be sent back, a sad remark, but befitting of a country where a frontrunner for President announces he believes Muslims should not hold his nation's highest office. These migrants, they suggest , could threaten America. Perhaps those candidates forget that many of this country's most thriving communities; Irish, Germans, Cubans, Chinese, Vietnamese, Jews, and the Pilgrims themselves, all joined this nation as refugees.
Accepting a few thousand refugees is not enough. The EU and America should follow Germany’s example, and accept more migrants. If they don’t have the space to house them, then subsidize other nations who can. Existing camps should be required to provide proper levels of food, shelter, safety, and sanitation. Some skeptics are worried that these migrants will overrun the country, ‘stealing’ jobs and public services. I don’t buy the argument: the migrants are, in proportion to Europe, less than one percent of the continent’s population. Further, with the West’s birth rate declining and the prospect of a small workforce unable to support government’s entitlements very real, an influx of tax paying labor could actually be an economic boon. Providing these migrants with a home could be expensive, but the West has borne such costs before for humanity. In World War One, the U.S. government helped feed a starving Europe, saving at least ten million lives. In 1949, President Truman’s airlift saved Berlin from a slow death by hunger. None of these acts brought the U.S. economy to its knees; we could both do well, and do good.
Normally when I write, I try to bring some humor to the issue I am writing about, but this particular issue is painfully serious. It’s an issue that won’t be solved by us just feeling sad, and these people don’t matter any less because we’ve only seen their suffering on our television screens between sports and weather. The migrants are not the United States’ problem, but the United States and the West, with their immense wealth, can provide a solution. Perhaps it is someone else’s job to help out: but I’m not willing to let someone die while we wait for somebody to raise their hand.
These migrants, with nothing more than the clothes on their backs and their children in their arms, have braved icy currents and blood soaked waters. All have lost homes and most have lost loved ones, and they seek distant shores in search of a better life, in search of a hand to pull them out of a sea of despair. For generations, when asked for help, America has given it. America prides itself in its generosity, claiming to be the greatest country on earth. Now it has a chance to prove it. America can have the courage to look beyond its own borders and boldly assert that those who flee tyranny will find freedom, and those who flee death will find life, no matter their faith or race. That courage could make the difference of life or death for a Syrian family. That is the sort of courage that would make us exceptional.