“How to Distribute a Migrant”

The words sound like a cookbook or an instructional manual, like “how to change a tire” or “how to skin a squirrel” or “how to bake bread.”  You follow the directions and its nice and tidy, then you pack the instruction manual away.

But these are damaging words. They were the headlines in July when the European Parliament was trying to decide how to “distribute migrants,” like they are some sort of inanimate object.

These were 7000 human beings — men, women, children — stranded on the sea for weeks while governments tried to decide their fate. You have to ask yourself, what would cause 7000 people – men, women, and children – to leave a place? You have to pose the question: How bad is it, if I’m willing to risk everything to float across international waters to get to safe shores?

That is an act of desperation. And these are NOT migrants. These are refugees. But as long as headlines like “How to distribute a migrant” are used, we can take away people’s humanity and reduce them to objects.

How to distribute a migrant: The instructions look different depending on the country.

Hungary – Use tear gas on crowds and build a razor wire fence until you can build something more permanent.

Greece – Turn many away at sea, refusing shelter and withholding access to basic needs, Maslow’s lowest hierarchy.

Germany – get ready to take in those seeking asylum, but be ready for extreme violence from right-wing zealots.

United States – turn off the television and don’t read the news. That’s the best way to distribute a migrant.

An article published yesterday on NPR tells me that the U.S. will accept over 8,000 Syrian Refugees in this next year. The United States has a track record for receiving the highest number of refugees in the world, and even that number is low compared to overall need. Consider these figures from UNHCR published in 2013, before we had even more refugees and internally displaced people around the world.

  • United States 59,548
  • Australia 10,691
  • Canada 9,160
  • Germany 4,775
  • Sweden 2,456
  • Norway 1,202
  • Netherlands 1,029
  • Finland 929
  • New Zealand 894
  • United Kingdom 710
  • All Others 1,832

The combined total then was 93,226. This is compared to four million Syrian refugees alone who are in need of placement. This is staggering, and you know what? These countries and governments need to step it up. I want to scream “Stop just talking about it and do something already!” 

“Let’s not pretend it’s working!”

These words from a UN human rights expert are sobering and prophetic. “Let’s not pretend that what the EU and its member states are doing is working. Migration is here to stay,” Mr. Crépeau stressed. “Building fences, using tear gas and other forms of violence against migrants and asylum seekers, detention, withholding access to basics such as shelter, food or water and using threatening language or hateful speech will not stop migrants from coming or trying to come to Europe.” *

Just like our homes expand as we invite guests in, so it is with countries. They expand for the good when they take in those who need refuge. You have only to look at Lady Liberty and the millions who have gone through Ellis Island to know this is true.

On a personal level, what can we do? Well, no matter what country you are in, stop calling them migrants. They are not migrants, they are refugees desperately in need of safety and shelter. We can find out what our local governments are doing, what groups like Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Services are doing to assist with the refugee crisis and volunteer or raise awareness through churches and groups of friends. We can remain aware and if you are a person who believes in the power of prayer, you can pray.

“Be mindful, O Lord, of those who travel by. Land, and sea, and air; of the old and the young; the orphans and widows; the sick, the suffering, the sorrowing, the afflicted, the captives, and the needy poor; and upon them all send forth they mercies, for thou art the Giver of all good things.”* from the Orthodox Prayer Book, Prayers of General Intercession

And we can stop using cookbook phrases, instead thinking about loving our neighbor, and caring for the refugees among us. Because we are fools if we honestly think this could never happen to us.

See more at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?LangID=E&NewsID=16344#sthash.Kjnsml8N.dpuf

9 thoughts on ““How to Distribute a Migrant”

  1. Iam a bit surprised by the numbers, reading about 800,000 estimated to come to Germany only this year, the number having been well over 200,000 in recent years. I wonder what the definition of refugee is that the UNHCR numbers are based on. Very few get accepted as refugee in Germany, but that doesn’t mean that all who came to get accepted had to leave upon not being accepted, this might give a wrong impression.

    That being said we do have a big problem in Germany at the moment with right wing activity. Refugee homes are burning again and on Facebook you can read the worst kind of racist comments, which ought to be illegal in Germany, but Facebook considers racism freedom of speech. I read about one occasion when someone posted a price list for dead foreigners, some other guy reported him to Facebook and Facebook answered that this comment which was about offering money for the killing of people (!) did not violate Facebok regulations (unlike a picture of a mom breastfeeding her child).

    The mob is heating up through sites such as Facebook, which leads to violence in the end, because people get the impression they were a majority (which they are not).


  2. This is especially provoking in light of the news report this morning of the truck load of refugees in Austria who lost their lives locked in that truck. My heart is heavy on so many sides. Thankful that Cleveland welcomes the refugees and it has made my life all the more richer in relationships and in cultural understanding. Thankful, too, for World Relief who also sponsors refugees and assists them in upon arrival to our land.


    1. You can check out Building Hope in the City, here in Cleveland who has multiple ministries including a mentoring program, tutoring program, citizenship classes, ESL and conversation, etc.


  3. I saw the NPR headline too thought “It’s about time!!” We currently live in Eastern Europe, just a few hours from some of the borders where refugees and migrants (trying to use that word in the truest sense since I think it does apply to some of the individuals) alike are turned away. Fortunately, it does get news coverage here. CNN int’l (though I’m sure not CNN U.S.) covers it fairly regularly. I watch with my children (5,4 and 1) as thousands of people amass at Calais, France, trying to get to the U.K. “Why are those people there? Why are they jumping the fence at night? Why are they living in that field? Why are they running on that truck?” they ask. They saw the cruise ship ported in Greece, overcrowded with thousands of people waiting for papers. We have discussions about real issues and real PEOPLE. Thank you for writing about it.


  4. I just went to a training today for working with refugees and was so encouraged to be around people who have learned to see refugees the way God sees them, rather than the way politicians see them. I am not always proud to be an American, but I am proud of the fact that we accept so many refugees. This is the way that it should be.


    1. I felt the same way when I saw how many we accept compared to other countries. While I still think there is so much more to do, I am proud that in this area at least, we try and step up. Thanks for the comment. Do you mind me asking where the training was and who sponsored it? I would love to go to a training like that. I’ve been to trainings and sponsored them from our state dept. of health but not a private one.


      1. It was actually just a small training for a specific ESL program run by a group down here in Dallas where I volunteer 3 times a week. It is called For the Nations Refugee Outreach. It wouldn’t have any new information for someone like you, but it sure is helpful for your average Christian who is just learning about the needs and wants to help.


  5. Thanks for your reminder to avoid objectifying people by labeling them–that’s always the tension, isn’t it? Trying to understand someone without letting certain features, including behavior, define them isn’t easy!

    I live in Europe and work in a refugee home. It’s a complicated situation on the ground (both the make-up of the asylum seeking population and the attitude of the general population), which perhaps is hard to see from a distance.

    The situation in my country isn’t great (to put it mildly) due to the overlate willingness of the government to act, but I’m happily surrounded by churches, individuals and organizations that are welcoming newly arrived people. I highly recommend getting involved!


    1. I love your words about churches being involved. I read somewhere that if it weren’t for the volunteer faith organizations we would have even more of a crisis on our hands. I’d love to find out more from you, lessons learned, things you think are helpful, orientation materials. I love that you are in this line of work. Thank you for reading and commenting!


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