Immigration, Refugees, & The Human Condition – Who Are “The Others?”


We have Learned – or Relearned – Some Hard and Important Lessons

First, a Correction

A few days ago, I mentioned three areas in this subject domain that are especially egregious. One of these became known the day I published the blog. This was denying automatic citizenship to children born of US parents serving overseas.

Two days later, the policy was clarified. While still reprehensible and immoral, it is much more narrowly focused than originally thought. Read more about it here:  

Now, on to today’s discussion.

What Happened?

Not all that long ago, the world seemed a more stable place. Wars and conflicts seemed more isolated. Democracy was on the rise, people fleeing one place for another seemed manageable. What a difference a few years made. Now, none of those descriptions hold as still valid. They are all connected; each problem feeds on the other.

As we entered the 21st century, one might have assumed that if there was to be a flood of refugees around the world, for manmade or natural reasons, the world was in shape to deal with it. We had tools to better forecast and track movements. The world had many competent, democratic governments inclined to do right. We had decades of international organizational experience, from the UN to smaller regional bodies.

Yet, the world failed miserably to meet the crisis. Everyone lost as a result. The price is still being paid. It is not at all clear when we might hit bottom in our collective failure to do the right things.

A blog is much too limited to do a post-mortem of what happened and why. But we can draw some big lessons that could help us going forward.

Lesson One

One obvious conclusion: the world failed to deal with the refugee floods on global or regional levels. As a result, countries in the line of migration were almost overwhelmed from the start. Hungary, Greece, and Italy come to mind. The European Union was slow and inept handling the crisis.

It was the same in Asia, where thousands fled persecution and genocide. They went, and are still going, into the near hopelessness of camps in Bangladesh, a country scarcely able to meet the needs. In America, our government fixated on a wall and trying to punish our neighbors. We can see daily how well that is working, for anyone.

Lesson Two

The other overriding conclusion was also foreseeable. When governments and agencies fail on this scale, people feel overwhelmed and threatened by migration. Instead of fellow human beings in desperate need, we begin to see invaders, criminals, and the like. The result is the rise of right wing, nationalistic, isolationist demagogues. These are people who feast on fear and have zero interest in solving the larger problems. As a byproduct, democracy is badly damaged.

Much has been and will be written on this subject. I will commend to you but one source for now. National Geographic has an issue devoted almost exclusively to this subject. It is well written and, of course, powerfully photographed. One of the key points is that migration is a human trait, maybe the single most constant trait of our species. See it here:

Going Forward

Since time immemorial, people have fled or explored, looking for a better life. It will always be so. Foolish is anyone who thinks that this can be stopped, or even long bottled up. Far better to invest the resources and energy into solutions. Address what drives migration and do better at accepting those who are now among us.

I often think about the families now pressing on our Southern border. Some consider these just economic opportunists. To them I would ask: Really? You believe a woman with a small child would walk a thousand miles through known extreme dangers, just to get a marginally better deal? That seems foolish and deliberately cruel to me. Surely, we are better than that.

No country can operate on the basis of open borders and unrestricted immigration. But nor can any country that claims any morality put up with what is going on now. We should expect better of ourselves. If we fail to do so, all this will only get worse. Don’t tolerate so-called leaders to fan our fears and treat those who ask for our help as less than human.

In the end, there are no “others.” We are one species, sharing one small planet. Everyone just wants to do the best they can for themselves and those they love. Surely we can figure out a better path than the ones we are walking now.

     Bill Clontz

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