Face to Face With Refugees, the Debate Takes a Different Tone

A few months ago, I was able to mark off one of my top bucket-list items when my girlfriend and I traveled to Europe. I have always wanted to travel, but there were a lot of obstacles to overcome first, mostly lack of proper funds. But, as time gains ground on me more and more every day, I have become more focused on the things I wish to accomplish this side of the ever-after. We traveled to London, Paris, Lucerne, Venice, Florence and Rome.

There are many tales I could regale you with about this trip, but the one that has the most importance to this story happened as we crossed the English Channel. It bears merit here that I say that I think I may have been the first of my family to cross this body of water not wearing green and carrying a gun. That in itself is memorable, and the early morning ferry ride across the channel from the White Cliffs of Dover to the Port of Calais was a memorable event in its own right, complete with a proper English breakfast consisting of blood sausage, bangers, eggs and a stiff Bloody Mary. It was a good morning.

Once we made port and loaded onto our tour bus, we set out onto a beautiful French morning and the adventures that awaited us. Before we left the port area our tour guide greeted us with a big hello and informed our group that only approximately 20 percent of the world’s population has the means to travel, and only about 10 percent of Americans travel abroad. He mentioned these facts as a setup for what he had to show us next. Graham (our tour guide) pointed out something that you won’t find in the brochures you read before deciding on a destination. The stark, cold, menacing vestige of razor wire rose up off the otherwise pristine view of the beach and ocean that filled the horizon. Behind this formidable barrier, separating us good God-fearing tourists from whatever evil lurked within, you could see children playing. Behind the children were plywood shacks, mud pathways and tents. Graham informed us that we were looking upon a Syrian refugee camp.

All the smiles and laughter left the air and a harsh reality set in. There it was, all the clips on the news, the endless rants on social media, all the self-serving political opinions and good old ignorant prejudice just fade out of sight when the vision of human suffering stares back at you. You could feel the uncomfortable silence reach out and touch this jolly group, leaving only the drone of the bus engines. The silence was coupled with the air of anger that we had to face this grim reality on such a fine morning. But like I said, there it was, no more denying it, no more “It’s not as bad as the liberal press makes it out to be,” no more “Why should I care about Syrians when they hate us?” No, this was real and directly in front of our faces.

It forced me to think, and to question “Who the hell am I to pass judgment on these people?” As a person of faith . . . any faith . . . we are told to help—no, commanded to help—others. And for the most part, I am willing to believe that anyone who may read this would do just that when faced with it. But put a few thousand miles and a different language and culture between us and them, and then you can label them as evil or terrorist. When it’s on TV, it’s not hungry children living in unsanitary housing, without running water or adequate heat; it’s just the news and somebody else’s problem.

I can’t see refugees as someone else’s problem anymore, not that I ever truly did. I think we should take them all in and do it with open arms. As far as the narrow-minded, worn-out excuses opponents of refugee aid belch forth, after seeing it—even at a safe distance—none hold water. I’ve seen it quoted “if you want refugees, you should let them live with you.” My answer to that is very simple—okay. If there is a shortage of places for them to live, I will do the Christian thing and help out. I’ve done it before and, in times past, others have helped me. Another good one: “We should help our homeless veterans first.” I agree that a veteran or anyone else who needs the assistance should get it, regardless of military service. That worn-out statement leads me to a glaring observation that must be pointed out here. Why is this veteran homeless? If he’s just lazy and doesn’t want to work, do you still support helping live off the taxpayers for free? Many who would repeat that much-regurgitated statement would also condemn those who take advantage of the welfare system and refuse to work. So, the logical retreat to that statement. Would you rather have a shiftless veteran looking for a free ride or a thrifty, working refugee looking for a chance to feed his family?

The statics show that more than 70 percent of Americans do not want to help the refugees, and the best research I can find on the subject is that we have done far less than almost any country that has agreed to help. But, not helping refugees is not a new thing. America has a history of not wanting refugees allowed in. Before America’s entry into World War I and World War II, our nation was very much pro isolation. In fact, before America’s entry into the Second World War, we turned away many Jewish refugees fleeing the war in Europe. Many of those forced to return died in Nazi concentration camps. I can’t help but think of the bitter irony that must have been evident to those Jewish refugees between the time of being turned away from the “Land of the Free” and the time that Zyclon B filled their lungs.

To me, the isolationist attitude is self-destructive and hypocritical. It’s self-destructive because one of the main reasons America is the superpower it is today is because of refugees and immigrants. Just imagine for a second how different the world would be if America had turned away Albert Einstein. Most likely, he would have been forced to work for the Nazis. How about the idea of Hitler having the atomic bomb before us? Einstein was a refugee, and had America turned him away, then it’s almost guaranteed Germany would have had the bomb before us. Instead of Hiroshima or Nagasaki it would have more likely been New York and Washington, DC that were bombed. And it’s the absolute height of hypocrisy for any red-blooded, flag-waving, God-fearing American to wish to deny our land to refugees or immigrants. Unless you are a Native American or Eskimo, then you are the descendant of refugees and immigrants. So, if you have the strength of your conviction, you should want to give the entire country back to the rightful owners, the American Indian. Then after losing your ancestral home, everything you ever saved or wanted for your family, you can sit in an unsanitary refugee prison surrounded by razor wire and wait on some God-fearing, merciful country to let you in.

I think it’s far more likely that a future Nobel Prize winner is sitting in one of those refugee camps at this moment than a terrorist. There is a better chance that there is a domestic terrorist sitting next to you in church than there is in a refugee camp. Maybe one of those kids I saw playing in the mud will discover a cure for cancer. Or maybe he will just starve to death waiting for some compassion.

Refugees in Jordan. Photo by Jeff J Mitchell.

Refugees in Jordan. Photo by Jeff J Mitchell.

Along with the all the hypocrisy that surrounds this situation, there is another 800-pound gorilla of irony in this sad tale. The refugee camp directly sits on the beach of Dunkirk. When the Nazis invaded France and overwhelmed the outnumbered and outgunned French and English forces, they fought gallantly but were forced to retreat. Those same beaches where the Syrian refugees now sit were the last stand of the Allied forces. Without the heroic efforts of the English people putting “every ship a sail,” those “refugee soldiers” would have been slaughtered or imprisoned.

While we are on the subject of refugees, here is a short list of some of the refugees who somehow managed to get into our country, despite our best Christian efforts to keep them out:

Bob Marley – fled Jamaica to Miami after being shot during political violence
Wyclef Jean – Haitian refugee who named his group Fugees (short for refugee)
Gloria Estefan – her father was a Cuban refugee
Fritzi Massary – Austrian-Jewish operetta singer and refugee
Olivia Newton-John – singer and actress, granddaughter of refugee Max Born
Claude-Michel Schönberg – composer whose works include Les Misérables and Miss Saigon is the son of refugees
Gene Simmons – Member of KISS, his mother was a Holocaust survivor. If you would prefer not to allow refugees in, you should stop listening to KISS and toss all those old albums.
Oscar Straus – Austrian-Jewish composer and refugee
Georg Ritter von Trapp – father of the Trapp family, whose story inspired The Sound of Music after fleeing Nazi-occupied Austria
Maria von Trapp – mother and writer of the book that inspired The Sound of Music.
Madeleine Albright – former U. S. Secretary of State
Henry Kissinger – former U.S. State secretary, fled from Germany to USA in 1938
Sigmund Freud – an Austrian Jew who founded psychoanalysis, he fled from Nazism in Austria
Max Born – Nobel Prize winner for physics was a German-Jewish refugee
Carl Djerassi – the inventor of the first contraceptive pill was an Austrian refugee. I wonder how many women on birth control are sorry we let him in?
Albert Einstein – one of the world’s most famous scientists was a German-Jewish refugee
Marlene Dietrich – actress and refugee from Nazi Germany
Rachel Weisz – actress, both her parents are Jewish refugees

I saved my two personal favorite refugees for last:

Sitting Bull – Sioux chief who left America for Canada
Jesus – his family fled from Israel to Egypt because King Herod (much like ISIS today) wanted to kill Jewish children. If Jesus were alive today and fled from all the violence in the Middle East, 64 percent of Americans would not want him in their country. Amen.


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