On the Refugee Crisis in Europe

I don’t usually use my blog to write on social or political matters, but this time I felt compelled to. The fact is, when you travel around a lot, it makes the world smaller. You can see that it is not about us and them. Because at the end of the day, despite our cultural differences, we are just people. We are all human. It should make us grateful for what we have and be willing to share it.

For some of my American friends back home, this refugee crisis may seem very far away, but for those of us in Europe, it is happening on our doorstep.

How can you look at masses stranded in Hungary or 71 people decomposing in a truck in Austria and say that we should look the other way? Today there is an image of a young boy who washed up on the shore, hanging limp like seaweed in a man’s arms. He is just a child. This is too much for me.

Meanwhile, European leaders debate what to do. I understand that each of us can’t take them all in, or our resources may be strained, etc. etc., but what about if we share the burden? These people are not terrorists. They are scared and desperate, with no other options.

We know the atrocities that occur in Syria; women and girls being raped and sold, child soldiers, men tortured and executed. Bombs, guns, war. If it were you, would you not flee and ask for help? Would you not spend every last dime hoping someone could get you to safety, even if it meant you risked dying on the journey? When the choice is death either way, you take the risk. It’s hard not to conjure images of the Holocaust because we’d be lying to ourselves to think that what is happening is anything less.

Europeans like to think we are so superior to everyone else, more civilized, more cultured. Everything is so much better here. Our systems are the best. Our countries are more peaceful and functional than yours. Look at our equality and our civil rights. How civil is what we are doing?

We have the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights for a reason. The first line of the Preamble states, “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” That’s just it. We can’t have peace in the world if we tell people, “No, not you.” What makes them less worthy?

And I have to think of my family. I am a first generation American with a mother born in Cuba. I will always be thankful to the U.S. for taking my family in when they needed it. I wouldn’t exist had it not been for America opening up for Cuban asylum seekers. The last thing on earth my grandparents wanted was to leave their home, but they had no choice. In America, they could be safe and build lives while they waited to return home. My family actually achieved the elusive American Dream. Unfortunately, both of my grandparents died without ever having stepped foot on their beloved homeland again. I can only hope the same will not be true for these asylum seekers.

There’s this alarming wave of xenophobia crashing down across the world and we need to stop it. We’ve got presidential candidates in the U.S. wanting to build walls and deport Mexicans. In the UK, people talk of leaving the EU, mostly to avoid having to accept more immigrants. And here, in my adopted country, Norway, the rhetoric is much the same.

I am heartened to see the news that more than 11,000 people in Iceland want to open their homes despite the government wanting to accept only 50 refugees, or the German Airbnb page which is connecting refugees with available rooms. And I hope that this spirit of generosity spreads across Europe (and the world), extinguishing some of the hatred.

I am not idealistic enough to think that it will happen overnight or that everything will be sunshine and rainbows, but we have to start somewhere. I’m not cynical enough to believe there is nothing we can do. Thanks to the generosity of the Icelandic people, their government is apparently planning to change their minds about how many asylum seekers they will accept. I hope that if we all speak up, our leaders will listen. Not all of us have room in our homes, but there will be other needs. I, for one, am willing to volunteer to help however I can.

It is easy when you are on the top, when you have everything, to shut out those who do not. But what if it were you standing on the other side of that fence?

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