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.