Sep. 13th, 2015

Refugees

Sep. 13th, 2015 11:29 am
varjohaltia: (Fitengli)
At work we recently took a personality test to find our strengths. One of my results suggested that I leverage my ability to foresee problems in projects to prevent roadblocks from arising later. I found this a very sweet way of saying my glass is half empty. Regardless, I keep thinking of this as I watch the Syrian refugee crisis unfold.

The Guardian published a collection of some very eloquent opinions on the current state of the crisis, well worth a read even if you might not agree with the authors.

The Middle East and North Africa is a mess. This isn't new. Outside meddling there isn't new. Not interceding in atrocities isn't new, and the difficulty of figuring out how to intercede even if the international legal framework and domestic political will exists isn't new either. Much has been written about that, and since I have no constructive additions to offer on "save Syria by following these easy steps!" I shan't add to it.

The whole situation where the wealthy central and norther European countries can act as a shining beacon of all that is good while relying on the poor southern European countries to keep out and house the riff-raff is offensively hypocritical. Europe and the rest of the Westernized wealthy world needs to get their act together and distribute and relocate refugees humanely and proportionately, and at the very least provide concrete support to the border countries who have to bear the load currently. If I was fleeing a war-torn region and I was given a choice to relocate to Romania or France to make a new life, you bet I'd have a preference. At the same time, those border countries, poor as they may be, need to be clearly held accountable to common standards of decency and human rights. But none of that is news either.

Instead I'll go into some musings about the refugees.

When I say refugee, I mean a person fleeing conditions that any sane person would flee from. Consequently, the line between refugee (poor innocent family escaping a bombed-to-rubble city) and an ambitious young person who wants to make something of themselves (economic migrant) is much blurrier than we pretend it is. A snarky comment to illustrate the bias in language: A Westernized country is one that takes immigrants sends expatriates. One of the Guardian essays made the point that the only way to guarantee that foreigners don't want to come to your country is to make your country one that you wouldn't want to live in -- i.e. as long as your country is nice, people want to come there.

Not only is the line blurry, there's little real way to determine who's what. When an individual shows up at your border with no papers, how do you tell whether they want to live in a rich country, or whether they fear for their life, or whether they're there to wage religious war? How do you even tell who they really are? Yes, of course some investigation can be done if you can spare competent detectives and great resources, but in reality that's not feasible. What many countries have consequently done is to subject people claiming refugee status to treatment sufficiently unpleasant that only those who really fear for their lives would put up with it. That, of course, is absurd and inhumane.

I'm heartened by the warmth and welcome and humanity people in Central Europe have shown in welcoming refugees. As much of a realist as I occasionally am, in my dealings with individual people I tend to find humanity to be, on a family-level, good and generous. What bothers me about the scenes of Germans welcoming refugees with such warmth is the sustainability of the feel-good tide. I hope I'm wrong in fearing that people have a romantic notion of welcoming poor huddled families who will be grateful and make no fuss and quietly settle into a proper Western lifestyle.

While many of the refugees are educated and young and liberal, many may have very alien cultural and religious norms and practices. Many are deeply traumatized and are in desperate need of intensive psychological counseling and treatment. They may be human, with all the foibles and irrationalities that implies. They may also just be jerks. What I want to see is that people realize this; that there's a responsibility that comes with accepting people into your society and that responsibility is much more complex and deep than just giving them housing and food. What I want to see is that people understand this, and show warmth and generosity and acceptance even when those refugees do not act the way we expect them to. I want to see this because the alternatives are ugly; they're firebombing of refugee centers, they're ostracizing refugees into permanent second-class citizen status, and they're watching as desperate people drown at your borders. I desperately want any country and society I'm part of to be better than that.

If you're interested about the scale -- about twice the population of Finland has fled just from Syria alone, never mind all the other conflicts in the region -- NPR has a good summary.

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October 2015

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